The Art of Interruption

On a recent walk with friends, the topic of drama workshops came up. In particular, exercises for team-building and to improve communication.

My two companions each work within arts organisations. These provide (among other things) training for the private sector. Their ideas, however, can be applied generally to aiding creative interaction.

Storyteller Interrupter

The first example given was  a game called ‘storyteller interrupter’. In this, somebody tells the story of a recent event. As they speak, other players pitch-in with single-word interruptions. These should be quite random and have no clear connection with the story being told. The main speaker then has to include these within the narrative.

Interruption is often seen as something negative but it can actually be helpful. In this game, the person telling their tale needs to remain present within the ‘flow’.  At the same time, they must accept new ideas about how to deliver this and remain open about where it may lead. The result will be richer and more entertaining than had they been just left to speak. The storyteller feels quick-witted and smart in the face of surprising new challenges. And the listeners get to hear an amusing and interesting talk.

Questions, Questions

Our other fellow walker told us how he uses a similar method. In this case, somebody also tells a story of their choice. After a while, they too are interrupted. This time, the others ask questions about what they have heard so far.

These questions prompt the speaker to flesh-out their story. In so doing, they find details that may otherwise have been missed. The storyteller must also now operate within a new, unexpected framework . It can be difficult to speak fluently on a subject when given free reign. Whereas, having parameters imposed by specific questions can actually make things feel easier.

Transcend Limitations

The parallels are, of course, quite clear with creative teaching. Children may stumble when given a task and left to their own devices. They may question the validity of their work or simply ‘dry up’. Whereas, through collaboration, questioning and mutual discussion, they may rise above their own imagined limitations.

Generally, when confronted with a question or obstacle, it turns out that we do have an answer. We may not know in advance what that might be. However, whether through imagination or trial-and-error, a new outcome will generally be reached. It really is a fine line between ‘disruption’ and ‘collaboration’. But one can quickly lead to the other.

You May be Surprised

So, rather than discouraging interruption, perhaps we can learn to use it as a creative tool. Welcoming input takes confidence and an open heart. If we remain open to possibilities beyond our own ideas, we can become more flexible, creative and tolerant.

Next time someone interrupts you with a question or observation, try responding with ‘I’m glad you asked that’ or ‘that’s an interesting point’. And then see where this leads. You may be pleasantly surprised.