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Spontaneous, object-based fun with MuseumProv

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog
 I’m always on the lookout for entrepreneurs finding and filling open economic niches in and around museums. Previously, on the Blog, Nick Gray has shared how Museum Hack is building its business on the market for fun, irreverent, social museum experiences. In today’s post Chelsea Hogan, who’s already blogged for us about her work at the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA), describes another potential market, in this case for interactive improvisation as a form of interpretation. She’s in the process of launching her own business providing this service (move over, Nick!), but the approach she describes here could also be adopted by museum staff.
MuseumProv at the Hammer
About a year ago, a colleague from The Hammer Museum asked me if I knew any “improvisers” (improvisational performers) who wanted to perform at an upcoming Family Day. I said “Yes!  And…MY team does!”  Oxymoronic as it may sound, I’ve been a serious improviser for the past five years, spending most of my time outside of art museums in classes, rehearsals, performances, coaching and teaching improv comedy. This spontaneous, often difficult, beautiful art form has made me more confident, a better listener, inspired creativity, and has become a passion I cannot live without. I had long wondered how to combine museum education and improv, both for my own personal pleasure and desire to blend passion and work, but also because I was increasingly unable to look at art works, particularly those featuring people, without wondering what it would be like if they came to life. How would that figure in the jaunty cap speak? How would he walk, and interact with the woman wearing pearls?
With this cool gig at the Hammer on the horizon, I assembled a group of three friends with whom I regularly peform improv at Mi’s Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, California, and we set about crafting a 30-minute performance that blended looking closely at artworks with classic short-form improv games.  A wonderful family audience assembled for our first performance. They laughed, had a blast with each other, and connected with art, too! Just as I had suspected, improv was an umbrella that people of all ages and knowledge of art could connect under. And how cool that it was happening in a museum!

MuseumProviser David Sill
A year later, “MuseumProv”, as I dubbed our group, is beginning to blossom into something really fun, with infinite possibilities and opportunities to create entertaining and educational programming in museums of all kinds. We’ve had several performances in California museums, like The Hammer Museum, ESMoA, and the Palm Springs Art Museum. I have a solid team of rotating “MuseumProvisers” that injects fresh new energy and brings a spirit of lightness to classically serious spaces. We perform a 30-minute set for multigenerational audiences, incorporating looking closely at art or objects and short-form improv comedy, all based on audience suggestions, observations and participation. Prior to our performances, we engage families in an Improv workshop that has them saying “Yes…and” (the core principal of Improv), recognizing patterns, and even performing simple scenes.
One of my favorite games is called Dr. Know-it-All, Art Historian, wherein MuseumProvisers, along with a volunteer audience member, stand in a line and act as one person with one mind, answering questions about the artworks from the audience. In this game, people feel free to ask any art-related questions on their minds, in a way that they might not in a traditional tour structure. As a museum educator and improviser, I am proud to say that with MuseumProv, one never gives in favor of the other, meaning the experience we create for our audiences is both a museum experience and an Improv performance. It doesn’t feel like an Improv performance is stuck on to an art experience, rather, they both flow into one to create a fun new way to engage with art.
My colleagues and I looking forward to partnering with The Engaging Educatorto offer public performances and workshops, as well as improv training for museum staff. In October, I’ll be leading improv-related family programs at the Hammer Museum and the Autry Museum of the American West, in connection with themes of transformation and animals.
If you want to follow the work of Chelsea and her colleagues as they develop the art of museum improvisation, here are some ways to connect: (site under construction)
Twitter, @museum_prov
Instagram @museumprov
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