Emotional Intelligence & Improvisation-What’s the Connection? Interview Series with Jude Treder-Wolff Part I

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Interview Series with Jude Treder-Wolff Part I

Jude Treder-Wolff  author of the book, Possible Futures: Creative Thinking For The Speed of Life is a performer, trainer and creative arts psychotherapist who is doing some exciting work bridging expertise in  improvisation and emotional intelligence.  On September 21st she will be co-facilitating “Improvisation For Developing Emotional Intelligence: A Workshop for Clinicians and Educators” an experiential and discussion training workshop for therapists, counselors, health care professionals and educators that explores the relationship between the practice and philosophy of applied improvisation and the skills and mind set associated with emotional intelligence in Smithtown, NY.
How did you become interested in connecting theatre improvisation to learning and teaching emotional intelligence?
Jude Treder-Wolfe“Since I read Daniel Goleman’s first book Emotional Intelligence and thenWorking With Emotional Intelligence – followed by many others he has written or collaborated on – it was clear to me that the mind and skill set he associates with emotional intelligence are integral to the philosophy and practice of improvisation. For example, one of the core principles of improvisation is working with agreements. An improv exercise might involve an agreement that we will have a conversation only using questions. Working within that agreement we know the boundaries and within those boundaries we have to be more inventive and creative to keep the game going. Or in an improvised scene, we agree with the other players and the audience about the parameters of a scene – where its taking place, who are the characters in the scene – and so whatever emotional responses we have within the improvised action have to be channeled into the agreements or boundaries that have been set up.
Similarly, a the core of Emotional Intelligence is awareness of one’s own emotions and the capacity to self-regulate those emotions, to know what is going on emotionally and at the same time make conscious choices about how to navigate them based on the situation. In real life we are always working within a set of agreements – either explicit, as with a therapist/client, doctor/patient, boss/employee – or implicit, i.e. friendships that have an implicit foundation that commitments to get together are honored, the implied trust that people will not jump ahead in a long line (a NY issue which I think about a lot because I live there, where standing in line is a thing we all have to do and honoring protocols about that is a big deal) or all the varied and subtle agreements that make up our interpersonal relationships. Since I became involved with improvisational theater 20 years ago – after 10 years as a creative arts therapists working with all kinds of groups in all kinds of clinical and educational settings – I recognized the parallels between what makes that creative, collaborative process work and what makes healthy relationships work. Improvisation heightens awareness of the interpersonal skills that contribute to better relationships at home and work:
  • Listening
  • Accepting what is offered – deal with an offer that is unexpected or that we do not like by yes…anding the offer and building on it by making an offer of our own
  • Make your partner look good – improvisation trains us to focus on the scene, on the whole, on what is being created together. Emotions rise up and can be channeled through the action, but having to make choices about how to channel emotions helps us gain mastery over our reactiveness.
  • Make and keep agreements – negotiate new agreements if the old ones aren’t working. Emotional intelligence is enhanced by creative experiences that show us where the tensions are both internally and with other people – improvisation is a process that engages the tension to create something new rather than avoid or deny it.
The theory behind Emotional intelligence is focused on becoming aware of the stress response in the mind/body and the heightened reactiveness we all have in modern life unless we learn to recognize and deal with our triggers to that reactive emotional state – in which the prefrontal cortex is off-line and our capacity to think things through is greatly reduced. Many people think that improvisation itself sets off the fearful, reactive emotional stress-brain so they don’t want to engage in it, but the reality is that improvisation trains us to deal with uncertainty and the sense of threat by hijacking the fear in service of a higher goal – the scene, the well-being of the other players, a new story being told that goes in an unexpected direction. Improvisation is a way to discover the power of responding in the moment without reacting out of fear. It is a way to learn about embracing failure. We take pride in trying things. The success lies in following the fear – learning to follow the fear reduces the sense of threat that is likely to throw us in real life.”
Thanks, Jude!  This bridge between improv and emotional intelligence holds much promise for us in healthcare!
Coming up soon in Confident Voices, her answer to this:

Why do you think emotional intelligence is so important for mental health and other clinicians, educators, and consultants?  
In addition to performing, Jude Treder-Wolff provides consulting for professional and personal development. Her book Possible Futures: Creative Thinking For The Speed of Life and blog Lives In Progress explores the ways technology is changing 21st century relationships and the creative mind set for success in the networked world. Her storytelling-style show Crazytown: my first psychopath was selected for the Midtown International Theatre Festival, the 2012 Chicago and San Francisco Fringe Festival and recently had 2 successful runs at Actors Theatre Workshop in New York. She has been interviewed for articles that appeared in national and local media, including the Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Woman’s Day, and The Three Village Times.  She can be reached at:  lifestage_2000@yahoo.com
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