Lenny Ravich
Life and the Art of Improvisation

Life and the Art of Improvisation

October 29, 2022

Hi. I’m Lenny Ravich and I have been on an amazing journey as a Humorous and Inspirational Keynote Speaker in Hong Kong and London. In my 86 short years, I’ve gathered some experiences concerning life and the art of improvisation that I would like to discuss with you. Do I have your permission?

The Actor as a Young, Young man

When I was in my early twenties I lived in Greenwich Village in New York City. I was a budding Shakespearean Actor. I needed to have a day job for when I wasn’t working in the theater, (which was all the time) and I noticed an ad from the New York City Board of Education seeking qualified substitute teachers for junior high and high schools. Since I had a BA in English Literature, I took a battery of tests and succeeded in receiving my substitute English teacher’s license. This gift came with a challenge: I was called to teach everything BUT English. I substituted for a sewing class, gym classes and even taught French. But this was a perfect gig since I could always refuse a request to substitute if I had an audition that day or, most unlikely, a rehearsal. On the days that I was free, well the pay was quite handsome.

Fake it till you make it

One day I was called and asked to sub for an 8th-grade math class. The regular teacher had broken her leg in a skiing accident and would be laid up for six weeks. I hadn’t the slightest idea how to teach math for even an hour, and here I went and committed to doing it for six weeks. Definition of “Chutzpah”, anyone?

I spent almost every day of those six weeks in a constant state of humiliation. If you’re going to fake it, be ready to face the consequences.

Life and the Art of Improvisation

No matter how you perceive it, life is one huge, ongoing improvisation.  None of us gets an orientation manual when we’re born. There is no one to direct us on how to handle every single situation that might cross our path throughout our lifetime. Therefore, we are all improvisational actors whether we want to be or not.

One of my students, William (bless his heart) caught me “faking it” for about the 22nd time. I immediately went into improve mode, handed him the chalk and challenged him to teach the class himself, “smarty pants!” To my astonishment, he agreed. He proceeded to give a fabulous math lesson. I understood nothing, but the kids were inspired. Before the closing bell, I asked if someone else might be interested in teaching the next day’s lesson. Over twenty hands flew up and I gave the assignment to another mini genius.

Since my challenge to William turned out to be a blessing in disguise, I promised the class that I would continue this process on a daily basis as long as they behaved. Without a moment’s hesitation all the students agreed to abide by my terms. I even assigned the best achieving student to design, correct and grade the weekly quizzes.  I would sit in the back and try my best, to no avail, to decipher their explanations and formulas. They had no idea of my total bewilderment.

Whenever they got stuck and turned to me for help, my answer to them was a very confident, “I’m sorry, but if I help you I’m afraid you’ll become dependent on me. A good teacher challenges students and never offer answers.” That seemed to have worked because they became as busy as ants while sat down to resume reading my “MAD MAGAZINE” comic books.

My dear mentor Thiagi taught us this method which he labeled, “Have the inmates run the asylum.”

Gestalt therapists call this “creative adjustment.” Some people call it “lying and cheating”. I call it “the art of improvisation”.

I am always ready to invite someone from the audience to improvise with me during my Funny, Motivational Keynotes in Hong Kong and London.

Let’s begin living life in the here and now, without an agenda, while making others look good; just like the best improvisational artists do.

The ball is in your court. Smile and enjoy the show.

www. Lennyravich.org

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