Ensemble! Using the Power of Improv & Play to Forge Connections in a Lonely World

What does acting, specifically improvisational (improv) acting, have to do with life? Acting is just a game of play, right? It isn’t really relevant for “the real world” – is it? Not so if you ask psychiatrist Jeff Katzman or thespian Dan O’Connor. While their professions are in separate worlds – one in mental health and the other in the arts – they both agree that we can learn a lot if we look at the art of improv.

This might be a strange concept at first, but the authors break down the art of improv to use it as a bigger metaphor that can be applied to life. They’ve created a new word called “Ensembling.” Not the noun, but a verb. Ensembling to them is a process of understanding who is still in your life. It also means making a choice of how you’ll deepen and value those relationships. This involves some self-reflection.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, North Atlantic Books, in exchange for my honest review.

At first glance, the metaphor of improv applying to life might not make sense, but it eventually does. For example, the importance of improv players being able to trust each other is explained. Improv players have to “take risks” because they don’t have a script to work from, and they have to know that their fellow players will support them. Without this trust, the group can’t be successful together. In life, in a broader sense, this same type of trust is necessary to be vulnerable with people and deepen our friendships and relationships. This same ability, the authors argue, is what enables us to build relationships that go beyond a surface level, and to overcome loneliness, especially in the most difficult times of life.

There are more examples of how the authors make this metaphor of improv as life work. Overall, this is a contemplative book that seems like it’s meant to make a person look inward. While it has examples of improv, it does not have improv techniques – and that’s not the point. This book is unique and very relevant for our times. I would recommend it to anyone with a passion for the arts.

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