You might be thinking to yourself, why on earth were three improv comedians and 40 collegiate Israel advocates brought together during an Israel advocacy training? Before I give you the answer, let me set the scene. On day two of Israel on Demand, Improv Asylum led a workshop with our students. We broke up into small groups and did a series of exercises that were facilitated by one of the comedians. An exercise looked like this:
One comedian, a group of 10 somewhat awkward pro-Israel students, and a definitely awkward David Project staff member stand in a circle. The comedian gives the group a task: “As a group, you must try to tell a coherent story. We will go around in a circle and each of you can say just one word and you will build upon one another to create the story. Listen to each other and try to make this story have a beginning, middle, and end. One rule, don’t start this story with ‘Upon a time.’ Oh and don’t actually try to be funny because if you aren’t, it’s just weird for the rest of us…OK ready? Go!”
The story went something along the lines of, “The-dog-went-to-the-park-in-a-rocket-ship-which-aborted-and-then-the-family-ate-a-sandwhich-…” You get the idea. The story itself certainly had nothing to do with Israel advocacy. However, the skill it took for a group of students to listen to one another, think on their feet, and build off of the word the previous participant said had everything to do with it.
We introduced improv into our advocacy training in order to help students think on their feet and be able to converse in a way that encourages dialogue leading to mutual understanding. As The David Project continues to emphasize the value of reaching out to the campus community and having one-on-one conversations with others about Israel, we have found that the improv workshop helps students realize how to do this type of advocacy in a fun and productive way.
Perhaps most important was the improv troop’s broader message. As they explained, the success of a scene really depends on their ability to listen and build on what their peers are saying. Similarly, when our students are having conversations with others on campus, they should make an effort to hear what the person across from them is saying and converse in a way that promotes ongoing dialogue. Whether while setting a scene on stage or during a first meeting at a coffee shop, listening then responding is the stepping stone for future cooperation and engagement. If both sides leave a conversation feeling good, chances are there will be opportunities to move forward. If our students can go back to campus with this lesson imprinted in their minds, I have a feeling we may make many new friends for Israel on college campuses.