i‑Learner Education Centre

Teacher Diaries

Teacher Diaries: Mr. James – Creativity

How do you unleash your creative mind? My opinion is that creativity is inherent in all of us, and simply needs to be released. We can do this by learning to remove the mental obstacles that normally prevent us from thinking inventively or creatively.

As undergraduate at Oxford University, I was the lead pianist and musician for an improvised comedy group called the Oxford Imps. There are many formats for improvised comedy, although the common basis is that nothing is prepared in advance. The actors on the stage and the musicians that accompany them all work entirely with suggestions given by the audience, so have to think on the spot. Whatever location suggestions are thrown out there by the audience (for example ‘in space’, ‘in a pencil factory’, ‘in a nuclear submarine’…), the scene has to be set in that location. Whatever character suggestions are given (for example ‘a butcher’, ‘a witch’ or ‘six-headed cow’), the actors have to adopt that character. Therefore it would be very possible that you could end up with a scene containing something as unpredictable as ‘a six-headed cow and a witch, together in a nuclear submarine at the bottom of the ocean’! Nobody on the stage has any time to discuss or plan how that scene will develop, so they have to make it up right there and then – in a word, ‘improvise’.

Rehearsing these improvisation skills with the Imps was largely based around removing any hesitation that would make a scene seem stilted or awkward. As an actor, learning about how to deal with the unpredictable situations put in front of you really consisted of learning to accept them and flow with them, rather than instantly rejecting them and trying to resort to something you are more comfortable with. The result of this almost invariably creates an intriguing and ‘funny’ result when put on the stage!

This is a common feature in how I think true creativity can appear in writing. When given a writing prompt or initial idea, creative students will embrace their first thoughts – no matter how absurd they are – and follow through with them, rather than try to instantly shut them down and crawl back to something more comfortable but essentially boring. Creativity is built into all of our thinking – we just need to learn how to let it out freely.

Watch the incredible creativity of the Oxford Imps’ on-the-spot rapping in the video below, featuring myself as a rather novel kind of accompanist!