Meet our Team: Hillary Murrell

Hillary HeadshotEE has brought on a WEST COAST Engager! Meet Hillary Murrell!

What is your role at The Engaging Educator? I have just joined the team as a facilitator and Engager!

Where are you from and how did you make it to your current location? I am originally from San Diego. I went to college at UCLA and graduate school in London and have been in San Francisco for the last six years. I spent one summer teaching in New York in college and absolutely loved it! However, I am excited to be representing The Engaging Educator on the west coast when I move back to Los Angeles next week.

When did you first start to love Improv? I took my first Improv class in middle school. I was very shy growing up but when I was on the stage doing improv I felt fearless. That feeling has stayed with me and now I love speaking in front of people more than anything else.

What is something you want to Improv(e) on? I want to Improv(e) on enjoying to relax. I like to be active all the time and want to start enjoying the pleasure of doing nothing.

Where is your favorite place in the city? The summer I spent in NYC my favorite place was Bryant Park with a turkey sandwich from Cosi. My favorite place in Los Angeles is the Ray’s and Stark Bar at LACMA.

What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? A not-so-secret skill I have is that I am a pretty good tap dancer.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel silly and free.

“Yes, and” to reading, coffee, long walks and my puppy.

Meet our Team: Olive Persimmon

Olive 3Meet our newest NYC Team Member: The fantastically monikered Olive Persimmon!

– What do is your role at The Engaging Educator? I am a facilitator, engager, and most importantly someone tying to empower people to find their voices.

-Where are you from and how did you make it to NYC? I’m from the great state of Ohio (the heart of it all!). I wanted to be around talented people who were creating things, so I knew NYC was the right place for me. I loved the chaos and the energy.

-When did you first start to love Improv? I’ve been doing public speaking for ten years. It’s my hobby and passion. I got in to improv to improve my impromptu speaking ability and fell in love because…well…it’s super fun.

-What is something you want to Improv(e) on? My cooking skills are atrocious. Truly,I can barely make eggs.

-Where is your favorite place in the city? I’m in love with the Met. I never had an interest in art until I went on a Museum Hack tour. It totally changed my perspective. Now I can give a decent tour of the Met myself.

-What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? I love creating things with words (speeches, books,etc). Recently though I’ve been really in to spoken word poetry.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel happy!

“Yes, and” to running, reading, and performing

Improv Empowers Teamwork By Tackling Realism – Lawrese Brown

Improv is truly a team sport. If you’ve been lucky enough to witness the magic of two or more people affirming, contributing and creating a story together, then you know what I mean. In those moments it’s clear to me that the sum of all parts (or people) is more powerful than a singular person – and that is the purpose of teamwork. Or is it?

Often when we work in teams, our goal is simply to finish an assignment. Whether a presentation or new project, we approach teamwork as a tool to complete a task faster, not to take the task further. This is why, in groups, many of us quietly mumble a quiet prayer about having the option of working alone. With our hectic schedules, deadlines and endless to-do-lists we’ve forgotten that the purpose of teamwork isn’t an exercise for completion, but collaboration… and that means achieving something bigger, better, and more valuable than what we would have been able to create by ourselves. (Don’t believe me, see inspirational quotes below.)

“Unity is strength…. When there is teamwork and collaboration wonderful things can be achieved.” – Mattie J.P Stepanek

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go farther, go together?” – African Proverb

“Teamwork, simply stated is less me and more we.” – Anonymous

Because in improv we seldom know exactly where the scene is going, as players we focus more on what is possible than what is practical. If we agree that the purpose of working on a team is not just completing or creating, but creating bigger and completing more than what we can do alone, then we have to push past one of our favorite adult habits: realism.

While being realistic works when talking about the economy and predicting outcomes, practicing realism as an adult easily becomes an intuitive mechanism for limitation. We become so enveloped in sharing what we should do to complete the project that we forget to consider what we could do as well. As William Shakespeare said, “We know what we are, but we know not what we may be.”

There’s a reason why your favorite and funniest stories have unexpected endings. One of the reasons we speak of “yes AND” so frequently in improv is because in affirming every idea we dwell in possibility. When we say “no” or “I should” we narrow and eliminate alternative ideas all together. So next time you’re working on a team, don’t just focus on getting to the end: Find freedom in the fact that together (contributing to each other’s strengths) you can achieve a much bigger, better and more brilliant ending.

– Lawrese Brown, Engager

Museum Mashup Reflections


Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.19.20 AMA note from Jen:
The first Mashup was born in a car on the way to Whole Foods. And not a NYC car ride – this was a 10 minute conversation en route to picking up snacks for a reception at SECCA. Debbie Randolph was pushing, more than I was, to embody the spirit of improv in our next round of experimenting in museums at the 2015 NAEA conference. I remember having the conversation, getting excited about a great idea, then emailing the others to refining the car plan.

I’ve always had a level of tentativeness with truly incorporating improv into what I’m doing – blame it on years of hearing “improvisers are losers” from a theatre director who RAN an improv theatre. While others may have seen me as risky, I knew I was holding back some of the ‘crazier’ ideas. But over the last three and a half years, I’ve gotten bolder in taking the lead in improv integration within museum pedagogy Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.18.46 AMAND owning my experience and opinions. The Mashup doesn’t belong to that little group of renegades from NAEA. It’s not mine – it doesn’t belong to any one person. We don’t have to be there to train people how to do it or to run it. The idea of experimentation within museums is present within the museum field already. But this celebration of failure/positive risk-taking/off-the-cuff/Yes, And mentality? This is improv. This is what, through The Engaging Educator, we are teaching and embodying – and have been for three and a half years, and will for many, many more. And here’s my experiment, embracing it all and running with those ‘crazy’ ideas that don’t seem so crazy once they get rolling.

So, moving forward we’re stewarding #MuseumMashup. This page is a place where we’ll promote, help organize, host resources, reflections, photos and information – it’s also where you can find organizers near you, and get involved in our next adventure this late summer/early fall – the Worldwide #MuseumMashup. That being said, welcome and do Yes, And the fun!

Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 10.23.34 AMA note from Shaelyn: On the first Nationwide Museum Mashup Day, events were organized at 6 museums across the country. Museum educators, enthusiasts, and the public were invited to visit a site near them or follow along online with the hashtag #MuseumMashup. Between 10 am and 8 pm EST, there was only one half hour period when no group of museum enthusiasts was holding a Museum Mashup!

The hashtag generated nearly 800 tweets, with 300 original tweets and 400 retweets. Messages sent on twitter about the event appeared in timelines 800,000 times for as many as 3 million views. The hashtag reached #1 among trending hashtags in the United States in the evening. Whether participating online or in person, the first Nationwide Museum Mashup Day provided a wonderful opportunity for people to share the experience of looking at museums in new ways.

Visit our Storify summary of the day to see a recap of how it unfolded according to the tweets participants shared: https://storify.com/MuseumMashup/nationwide-museum-mashup-day

Meet Our Team: Britt Cannino

BrittanyWe’ve brought on a new team member to help facilitate our expanding programs in North Carolina: Meet new NC Engager Britt Cannino!

-What do is your role at The Engaging Educator? My role at The Engaging Educator is to help bring improv techniques and practices to the general public, businesses, and educators.

-Where are you from and how did you make it to NC? I am from Winston-Salem, North Carolina!

-When did you first start to love Improv? I first began my love of improv through my acting training in college and from there I began to teach and perform.

-What is something you want to Improv(e) on? I would love to improve on my self confidence as well as building others’ self confidence.

-Where is your favorite place in the city? My favorite place in the city is Tanglewood park with my dog or at the horse barn; or where I work my part time job which at is Camino Bakery, downtown.

-What’s a not-so-secret skill you have? Another skill of mine is visual arts, specifically comedic illustrations and drawings, as well as painting and design.

“AaahhhOOOgah” makes me feel like an ape blowing a trumpet to assemble the rest of the apes to war….basically planet of the apes.

“Yes, and” to theatre, comedy, pets, sushi, string lights!!

Reflections on Teaching from Jill Frutkin

I like to think of teaching as translation.
Yes, it’s also about sharing skills, and the giving of perhaps new information.
But the most important part of teaching to me is the translation: how can I take what I know, and translate it into a language you can understand?

To be successful at this, you have to be a good listener. Not just an ears listener, but an observer of the entirety of a person. What is this person responding to? What does their body language tell me? What kinds of words are they choosing to explain themself? What makes their eyes light up?

In my work with young students with autism, the translation element to teaching was highlighted in bold. I learned to intuitively understand how many words a student could process at a time. I changed the way I spoke and explained ideas so that knowledge was accessible. I was mindful of cadence and emotion attached to words, precise gesticulation and clear body language, and the changing of energies and activities within the classroom to keep all students engaged in learning.

Through teaching Improv, Presentation Skills and Storytelling with EE over the past 6 (!) months I’ve learned: it’s exactly the same with neuro-typical adults.

We all need a translation. Each group I’ve taught has been different, and I’ve tried my best to access and fulfill their needs. I love asking and listening to students explain why they signed up for the class, and what they expect to get out of it. It helps me tailor both the content of our time together, and the tone.

It’s been incredible to get to know and improv(e) with so many people through EE. One of my favorites moments in any class is the huge smile on everyone’s face as we pass the clap in a circle – adults! Clapping hands in a circle! The simplest thing you could think of, but beautifully difficult to make eye contact, establish non- verbal communication, and leave one’s self receptive to change at any moment. I love looking around the circle and seeing the playful grins and hands ready with anticipation. I try to offer pointers to make the exercise the most worthwhile based upon my translation of the group’s interpretation. Sometimes they need to speed up, and stop trying to be perfect and too nice; sometimes they need to slow down, loosen their bodies and enjoy the failures.

When we talk about “Yes, And”, I like to open up the discussion to the many translations of the phrase. Sure, we can take it literally, but what other words can we use to better understand the concept? What does it look like? What does it sound like? How can it benefit us? I offer up my ideas of the way the concept makes the most sense to me, but encourage students to find their own personal translation. In addition to practice, I recommend reading articles, discussion, and taking classes with more than one instructor to take in the material and re-appropriate it in the way that best suits your own self.

Translation can often be verbal, but effective teaching is done through modeling; the embodiment of the idea. Instead of simply explaining, the best teachers are.
In EE classes, this means making myself open to failure and publically embracing it, pointing out my own habits, and sharing examples of how I’ve reflected on the practices in my own life. In doing this I hope both to serve as an example of how to move through the class but also how to apply the practice to everyday life and share with others.

Translation is the space between: the communication connection of people sharing experiences and learning from them. Improv helps us to be active listeners and honest responders, and improves both teaching and learning.

– Jill Frutkin

Improv And The New Year

I’ve written previously about how improv helped me professionally, but I thought my upcoming two-year improv anniversary was a great chance to share how improv has helped me personally as well.

I will never forget lying in bed the day after New Year’s of 2014 thinking about all my big dreams, and how scared I was to actually pursue them. I, like every other person with a pulse, wanted to be Oprah and I wanted to be wealthy (still working on both) and most importantly, I wanted to not be afraid to make mistakes. I was just shy of four full years post-college, and I was still playing tug-of-war with the idea of a perfect career (you know that one that you believe is possible before you realize that nothing is perfect?)

High-off of my resolutions for the new year and armed with a desire to get messy, I enrolled in my first improv class at Engaging Educator. I chose improv because I needed something that would push me clear out of my comfort zone into the ugly territory of uncertainty and hopefully failure. (Sounds dramatic I know. But isn’t everyone dramatic around New Years?)

That one small step into my first class at Shetler Studios would prove transformative. About 6 months after I started improv, I was let go from my job and in an instant I had to start over.

Suddenly, the same principles that I celebrated for aiding in my professional growth – being quick on my feet, committing to my choices, and always saying “YES AND” – were now my professional mantras and life principles as well.

As with any emergent improv scene, the beginning is messy and the best is always yet to come. In uncertainty there is possibility, but there is also confusion and overwhelming fear. (Just ask anyone trying an improv game for the first time.) I had always known what I wanted, now I had to make the choice to take the chance to pursue it – and slowly but surely I did.  I applied to a graduate program in Educational Leadership at NYU, started a business that allowed me to continue working with high school and college students in the area of college and career readiness, and attended every conference, event, and panel on entrepreneurship I could find.

That was a year and a half ago.

Today, I am a semester shy of my receiving my Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership, Politics in Advocacy from NYU, through my business I’ve collaborated with thirteen non-profits and educational institutions to serve over 1000 students in NY and NJ, I’ve served as a keynote and conference speaker, and now I have the privilege of exposing others to the YES AND side of life as an improv instructor for the same company that first exposed me to YES AND.

I’m personally grateful for improv because it was a continuous reminder that with imagination, assertion and courage we can create –  and that our lives are our greatest creation.  I believe that when we let go, actively listen, and keep affirming our choices and each other than we can actively build new worlds and while building these worlds we see that the craziest, most surprising characters in life – are our true selves. When we YES AND life, we write scenes that we had no idea were even available for us to enter. A lot of my dreams have changed since I started taking improv, but thanks to improv and even more of my dreams have come true.

Cheers to another year of YES AND, Aooooogah’s and awesomeness for you!

Lawrese Brown

Teen Facilitator December ’15 Update

The teens focused on the TEACHING aspect of improv this session, versus the whole package. Teaching improv isn’t easy, especially when you are teaching people who don’t want to be actors. Our teens pushed through their own challenges as well as the challenge of working with friends. The teens are looking at walls while speaking, because we’re working on their personal teaching style. All of them rocked the weekend, and we’re so excited for our January and February workshops!

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Jen note: Since the conception of this program, it’s been a learning experience for me and the team. We’ve realized our way of leading reflections IS really special, and hard to teach. It’s something the teens will be working on in the next few months, and a focus of our program – but it’s definitely what makes EE and our teachers special! Excited for 2016, and the growth and expansion of this program to NC!

Our awesome design guru Shoshana Torn has created our new program logo! Soon to be on t-shirts galore!
EE-design-teens-FINAL