Mirror Talk: An improv therapy group exercise
An improv team is in front of an audience. They ask for a suggestion of an activity. The audience says, “dancing.” Right away the entire team begins disco dancing at what appears to be the exact same time. How did they do that? How did they all know to disco dance instead of tango or macarena? The answer: One of them started to point to the sky, and the others quickly mirrored and heightened that move and before they knew it they were all disco dancing. The secret is mirroring. Mirror talk is one of my favorite mirror exercises because it has so many applications, and it’s always funny.
Face a partner, and choose one player to be the first leader. The leader is going to talk about their morning, and they are going to do so very slowly because their partner is going to mirror talk right along with them. The mirroring partners should try to say exactly what their partner is saying at the exact same time, not repeat after them, say it right along with them. Because you want your partner to be successful as your mirror, leaders, please talk very slowly.
After the leaders have had time to say a few sentences, ask some of the mirrors to tell us what their leader was talking about. Undoubtedly they will be able to tell you because they were so connected to their partners.
Switch so that the mirror is leading and the leader is mirroring. Repeat the exercise with the new leader.
Why was everyone able to say what their leader talked about? Because when we mirror talk we are too focused to be thinking about anything else. We are completely engaged and in the moment with our partner. We’re even mirroring their tone, expression and body language. We’re making eye contact, and we’re hanging on until the very last word. We’re not thinking about what we’re going to say or about the stresses of our day.
As an empathy building exercise:
Instead of instructing the leaders to talk about their morning, ask them to share something they are emotional about: something they are scared of; something they are excited for; something that annoys them, etc.
Ask the mirrors to share what the emotion their leaders were expressing. This builds our ability to recognize and match emotions of those we’re talking to, building empathy.
As an improv comedy exercise:
Before playing twins practice mirror talking with your partner without a designated leader. Try telling a story together. This is difficult. Sometimes you get into a rhythm with your partner: maybe one leads the beginning of the sentence and the other takes over, or maybe you get on the same wavelength and are able to kind of tell where the story is going. See if you can tell a story together, talking at the same time, with no leader.
Whether or not that story went well (and please celebrate if it did not) you are now ready to play Twins.
Two people are twin experts. Take a suggestion from the audience for what the twins are experts in. The audience asks the twins questions about that subject, and the twins answer the questions mirror talking together at the exact same time.
Let go of perfection with this exercise. It’s funniest when it’s imperfect!
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