Thought bubbles from week three of Educational Improv Works, our new improv-based learning program — which is currently launching with a group of young men in the juvenile justice system in Richmond, VA: “Okay, OKAY," yells out Mr. McKay. "Freeze Frame interviews! Be bold, be loud, be brave. Let’s go!”
An early highlight in our EIW experiment came from our Freeze Frame exercise. In this one we set up mock interviews and ask them to “freeze!” — and then quickly assess best and worst practices and continue on. No big deal but an effective way to isolate those little moments that can make a big difference. As most of us know, a weak handshake, a misplaced mumble, or a couple of poorly thought-out phrases can be the difference between a resume going into the “maybe” file rather than the vertical one.
The surprise moment came when Teacher McKay said to one of our students, “Hey, why don’t you do this instead of me? Sit here. Okay, let’s go!” Antoine had randomly (or so it seemed) selected one of the more quiet — but let’s say authoritative — members of the class to take over the interviewing. If it took minutes, it felt like seconds for it to become clear that this young man, whose name is Marcus, was home. Marcus asked good questions, was relaxed, thoughtful, pleasant, and reflective, with solid responses and great follow-ups. Heads were turning, that’s for sure — even some of the staff counselors had wandered in, naturally curious to see what EIW was about but now they were left a little breathless in what we were all seeing. And that was clearly a natural-born leader revealing his talents before our eyes. A leader finding his voice, if only for a moment, in an impromptu script which clearly should not remain hypothetical or ephemeral. But then again only time and tough choices will tell us where Marcus may or may not some day land.
After every class Antoine and I are always a unique mix of, exhausted and chattily exuberant, but this day was over the top.
“That was amazing!" “He was amazing!” “How did you ...” “I didn’t!” “You did.” “I did.” And so on…
This high-octane postmortem repartee will usually last until we make it to the car or the first left back to the hotel. Our drive is about 20 minutes, and predictably, a quiet falls over our short drive back. You might assume it’s from being a little tired or even reflecting on a young man’s nice moment in front of peers and counselors ... but this silence comes from someplace far more uncertain and unsettling. A silence probably not too dissimilar from the stillness that comes over a parent when they start to imagine any part of their own child’s future. My daughter is five — and sure, I worry. Antoine is a father of six kids, you heard me, six — and he worries probably six times more than I do!
But we both agree that our worry for a young man like Marcus is not the same, for all the obvious reasons complex and cliché.
Very soon, in less than a year, Marcus will find himself in a real interview ... and when he’s asked about his “record,” which he will be, I wish as a country we could say “Freeze!” Don’t do it. Just wait a moment and just this once could we forgo the stigma, doubt, and sabotage that comes loaded with both the question and the response. “Freeze!” I wish we could say, and hand over a movie of this natural leader leading ... and then after that explain how certain we were that if given a chance, he would do nothing else because that’s all that naturals can do.
But like worried parents, all we can do is hope that his first interviewer will look past his record and into his heart and do what most hiring institutions rarely do ... take a chance.
“Okay, that was great, really great! Good work!” Fist bumps, hand shakes, I get a shoulder bump or two, even smiles. Mr. McKay says, “See everyone next week.”