Kids Shouldn’t Have ALL The Fun: The Merlin Works September Newsletter

Why Family Improv

by Shana Merlin

It shouldn’t get to me, but it did. She was sitting there on the couch, reading her book. Or sometimes I saw her in her car, on her smartphone. Or knitting in the lobby. Or making a to do list on the park bench under the awning. She wasn’t bothered, so why should I be?

But there I was, getting ready to teach my improv class, looking over curriculum in the lobby, getting frustrated. These are women–probably smart, successful, interesting women–who are killing time while their child is in an awesome class at the ZACH youth theater program. Their kids were getting to be actors and dancers, comedians and singers. And their moms were just waiting.And I wanted to tell them, “You are an actor too! A dancer! A comedian! You are an artist with things to say and do!” But I just smiled politely and waited for my students to arrive. I saw the parents hurry out the door with their children, whose classes ended right before mine began.

Now, I’m a mom. And I know that an hour of peace and quiet to read a book is a valuable thing. But I don’t get the sense from these parents running errands and checking Facebook that they are savoring these moments while their kid is in class. It feels more just like passing time.  And I know that not everyone shares the same hobbies or interest as their kids or wants to be in a performing arts class.  A lot of my dissapointment has more to do with my own fears about losing my own identity and creativity in service of my child. Either way, I feel like there could be a lot more Mommy/Daddy and me opportunities for families with kids of every age. Where kids AND adults can explore their creative alter-egos.

I like the model my soccer teammates showed. As my all-women soccer team, the Brew Dawgs, started having kids, women disappeared for a while with their infants, but then moms came back–with their husband and child in tow to watch their games. And as their kids got older, everyone got a turn on the weekend, playing a soccer game and watching a family member’s soccer game. Now that’s what I call a Soccer Mom!

That’s one of the big reasons I’ve started the Family Improv Class (starting Sunday September 29th, register now!). I wanted parents to get a chance to have all the fun these kids are having in their theater for youth classes.

I’m also a big believer in modeling the behavior you want in your kids. You want your kids to try new things and take more social risks? To be more positive and agreeable? To have more confidence in front of groups? To open up and share more of themselves with you? To get off the couch and in to the world of activity? Well, walk the walk. Show them that you do these things. And have them join in. I can’t think of a better way to model great behavior than a family improv class.

I like to imagine the conversation on the car ride over to the first Family Improv Class, where parent and child can bond about the anxiety of trying a new thing, not knowing who will be in class and if they will like it, making a pact to be a good sport and give it a try.

So here’s my plan for a typical day of Family Improv Class:

  • At the beginning of class, everyone warms up together, playing schoolyard games, theater games, and other games that help connect, energize, loosen up and ground us in the present.
  • Then we introduce the main topic or lesson of the day with a few demonstrations.
  • Then the group splits up. Kids stay in one room while the adults move next door. Each group gets more practice with their peers.
  • Finally, it’s showtime and the kids and adults come together to watch mixed age groups perform improv games and scenes together.
We tried it out at the Family Improv Mixer in August and it was amazing. It was so fun to see the kids light up when they realized the adults were going to truly honor their ideas and do silly things. We played Everybody Go and a seven year old was delighted to see everyone walk around like zombies, just like he said! And it was a great practice for the adult improvisers in the room to say Yes And to ideas that they may not think are plausible or even comprehendible. Lovely to see a 11-year-old be endowed as the CEO by his 42-year-old scene partner.  I was surprised by how little I needed to modify the activities and everyone could just play together.And that may be the strongest part–the value of families getting to play and laugh together. To break habits and patterns and find new ways of connection. And with my stellar co-teachers: Michael Joplin, who teaches the teen improv classes at ZACH, and Lacy Shawn, who is a youth counselor at Reagan High School and and experienced improviser, I’ve got a great team to handle anything that might come up.

I’m excited about the new class and to learn best how to serve adults, kids and families with improv. So spread the word so we can fill up our inaugural class and make this a new standard offering at Merlin Works, adding classes for younger families as well.

Shana Merlin
Founder, Merlin Works


About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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