Creating Psychological Safety

I’m in Wellington, NZ again. It’s a risk coming back after almost 7 years to be in a city I love with no place to live and no job. I’ve also left my trusted improv teams behind and I’m faced with the vulnerability of reaching out to old connections and new people to play with, to team up with, to take risks with…

One of my favourite testimonials from a student is ‘Clare Kerrison creates a safe place to do dangerous things in.’ (Thanks Mary). That’s not a quote about physical safety (although that is a prerequisite). That’s a quote about psychological safety and being comfortable taking emotional or creative risks in front of others.

Psychological safety is a buzz phrase at the moment partly thanks to research into what makes a great team. The article is good long read about Google’s research into how and why team culture is the most consistent cause of successful or unsuccessful teams in a business setting. Or any setting I would argue.

Improv and improvisers are naturally disposed toward creating psychologically safe spaces and teams. It’s in our core philosophies of ‘Make each other look good’ or ‘Yes, and.’ We teach listening, team support, and emotional empathy as core elements of our craft. We encourage people to use pieces of truth and that the most interesting person to see on stage is a version of themselves. We truly believe in group mind and creating a whole that is greater than the sum of parts.

Yet even we can get it spectacularly wrong. Our global communities are constantly in discussion about how and whether to best critique the work, about what the ‘rules’ of improv are, how to deal with ‘that guy’ and whether our communities are a safe place for women and people of non-dominant cultures.

I think it comes back to leadership. To the conscious creation of a “team climate characterised by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.” (Amy Edmundson) To supporting individuals to increase and practice the skills of shared communication and social sensitivity. Skills, as it turns out, we can all learn and practice in the safe space of a good improv class or team.

So here I am, Wellington! Ready to take creative risks as a member of your successful improv team (Here is an awesome review for Lyall Baywatch). Ready to move into your flat (Thanks friends!). Ready to work for your arts organisation (Thanks Young and Hungry).

And ready to make your improv class a safe place to do dangerous things in!

Basejump Improv classes.

(Photo by Ali Little: Lyndon Hood and Clare Kerrison in Lyall Baywatch)

Inner clown

By Melanie Taylor

I was a rule breaker once. A long, long time ago, I made people laugh. I clowned my way through childhood, mimicked and pranked my teenage years away. My ordinary was my genius.

I grew up. First I got serious, then I got important. Rule maker. Master. Servant to the institution, I bricked up my clown.

I was humane – I left a breathing hole, a clue to where I’d buried her. Trickster. Houdini. She wasn’t done with me. Not at first. Pale and wasted, she’d pop her head round the door. Wink at me across the room. ‘Just passing,’ she’d mouth above the rows of important heads. ‘Only me,’ she’d whisper when I refused to look at her.

Months passed. I stopped seeing her or perhaps she went away, gone off to play somewhere else. Years passed.

And then one day, she came back. No warning. Just waiting for me when I got home. I kept her on the doorstep.

She told a gag. I’d heard it before. She did a funny walk. I’d seen it before. She looked bewildered. It was as if she’d never been away.

‘I’ve missed you,’ we said.

And because of that, I broke some rules.

And because of that I found my ordinary again.

And ever since that day, I’ve kept my clown up close. Personal.

Mel and bluebells

About Melanie

Melanie has a background in English and Drama teaching. She now teaches improv and also runs creative play workshops for adults. She has written and acted in plays for WRiTEON. Melanie trained with Clare Kerrison and is a regular performer at Unscripted Underground, including improvised Shakespeare with the Infinite Monkeys. Her other great love is clowning.

Melanie blogs at

Which improv class should I take?

The first improv class of Autumn starts soon, and there are a lot of keen folks out there asking me  this question – Which Improv Class Should I Take?

Well you’re in luck –  I made a handy improv classes page listing them all.  If you haven’t done improv before or not since, like, forever, you’ll want the Improv for Beginners class to cover all the basics.  This class starts on 1 October.

For really experienced folks the decision is just as easy –  the first Tuesday Troupe session on 4 September is open to anyone who has graduated (at any time) from Improv for Improvers.   The class will be a welcome improv refresher as well as beginning a deeper look at what makes an open scene tick.  And it’s got a special drop-in rate of only £5 for the first session!

Somewhere in between? Didn’t answer your question? Contact me to find out where you fit in 🙂