Teacher notes: on Food, Tourism, and Discovery

As improv teachers, we all want to show everything. But it’s good to leave room for students to make their own discovery

Tourist season is back now that travel is in full swing. Improv friends from afar come to Oslo. I get really excited to show them ALL foodie places in Oslo. I want to make sure they don’t miss ANYTHING. I made a foodie map, even.

Aree’s Foodie Map of Oslo

But this is my mistake: I get TOO excited.

I would overwhelm friends with information. I want to give everything on a platter (no pun intended).

Suddenly I remember my days when I was backpacking across Europe. Back when there were no Google Maps on the phone (or internet was reserved only in youth hostels), we’d get one of these advertisement-crazy European city maps from the hostel lobby. It gives you EVERYTHING about the city.

I followed the map’s attractions. Of course I had to make dues to the Eiffel Tower when I was in Paris the first time, or the pissing boy in Brussels.

But my greatest memories from these trips were things I wasn’t prepared for. Things I discover on my own. Things I discover while mindlessly strolling around neighbourhoods. A cat museum, a bridge with locks, or a freaking huge cathedral I didn’t know existed. (Or a square where everyone eats huge ass zapiekanka at midnight. Thanks, Krakow.)

Stumbling upon a zapiekanka in the Jewish Quarter of Cracow.

I’m not anti-establishment nor anti-mainstream. It’s okay if my discovery turns to be another item on the tourist guide. But the act of discovery itself is the key. Because whether you like cats, symbolic locks, bread with mushrooms, or cathedrals, you made it YOUR own discovery.

So I remind myself this is how I learn and teach improv. And that thing about overwhelming people with information on foodie places, is not good.

I think the greatest “A-HA!” moments I get from improv classes, are not the ones which are spoon-fed. But it can be an exercise that was very cool, that made sense with my own logic. Or a piece of advice that seems innocuous at the time, but suddenly made sense 6 months later. These things feel like my OWN discovery.

As student I always liked teachers who allowed me to make my own discovery. I am less comfortable with teachers who tell you exactly what to do the entire scene and I become a passive participant in my own scene. (Note: this is just my preference, not a universal truth. Also, to break old habit, it’s necessary for teachers to make me make the choices I never make.) I like teachers who pause the scene and ask me to do one thing and then let me explore again. Or even better, take a pause at a critical point, point out something, and let ME make the choice.

As teacher I try to keep mindful of this. I don’t want to over-control the students’ discoveries. I don’t want to force-drag a bunch a tourist to the Manneken Pis and force-feed them the story of The Boy Who Pissed, without them feeling out the atmosphere of Brussels first. However great the story of The Boy Who Pissed was.

However, my preference for self-discovery does sometimes lead me to be a little unclear for my students, to what I want them to do (my bad). Of course I will give them SOMETHING to do, and not have my students run around without a task and then ask “What have you discovered?”. I’ll set up an arena. What I want students to do, is to go explore within the confines of the play area. Sometimes I’ll adjust a bit the play area if it seems too wide for a particular lesson; but I find it important to always leave a little room for their discovery.

I think the best analogy is Norwegian barnehage (kindergarten), who always makes weekly trips to the forest. What I want to do as a teacher is bring them to an area that has many curiosities, under the rock or behind a tree. And let the kids pick up what they find interesting, which will remain with their memories for a long time — whether it’s a red leaf, or a branch, or a funny stone. It’s their discovery.

Norwegian kindergarten activity https://espira.no/bevegelse/klar-for-tur/

Dedicated to visitors Hellena Jang (Seoul) and King Chan (Hong Kong).

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On Cloud Nine

An Impro Neuf blog. Evolving thoughts on improv from Aree Witoelar, teacher/founder of Impro Neuf International in Oslo, Norway.