Course Consideration: THTR1019

Ian Tash, Podcaster

In this episode, Podcaster Ian Tash interviews Professor Mendy McMasters about the course THTR1019 Dynamic Leadership through Improvisation.

Available on Soundcloud, Spotify, and Apple Music @TheRunnerOnAir


Hi, my name is Ian Alexander TASH, and you’re listening to course consideration brought to you by the runner. CSUB has a lot of different degrees, and even more classes. But most of us don’t know what’s being taught on our campus. And we might be really missing out on some of that. So that’s why I decided to interview some professors to hopefully see what sort of interesting, odd things that our campus thinks might be cool to learn. I hope you enjoy the interview.

Could you introduce yourself and tell the listeners a little bit about who you are?

I’m Mandy McMasters. And I teach in the theatre department. And I teach a lot of classes I teach beginning acting, intermediate acting, I teach and auditioning for the theater class, voice and speech where we certainly take the accents and dialects. I love working with students on that. I also teach intro to theater, and I teach a class called dynamic leadership through improvisation.

Good Yeah. So that last class is actually what we’re going to talk about today. Yes. So how would you describe that theater 1019 class, improvisation class? Are they in leadership through improvisation? My bad

Yeah, well, yeah. And I think before I describe that, I think you and I need to play a game. Okay. All right. I think we need to maybe do a little improv. So, let’s share a story. So, I’ll say a sentence, and then you say a sentence and we’ll build on each other’s ideas. Let’s see, once upon a time, there was a frog.

And the frog lived in a pond in a big swamp.

And the frog, instead of being green, was pink.

He was the most embarrassed of all of the frogs.

So, one day, he decided to take a trip.

He decided that the place to find full acceptance was Los Angeles, California.

Awesome, we can stop there. That was wonderful. Absolutely. So yes, we focus on dynamic leadership, through improvisation, and doing improv to help our leadership skills. So, we take some of the rules of improv, some of the things that we just did, and we apply it to our growth as leaders. So, one of the first rules of improv is to say yes, and we did, right. We said, Yes. When you presented something, and I just went with it, and I presented it something and you went with it. And we’ve all met those people, though, in the, you know, in a business world, in any situation that are no people, right? I can hear you given all your heart to something. And you’ve thought of this great idea. And all you get is no, no, no, no, no. And so, we work on saying yes, because that’s, that’s how you build something new, right? And then the second rule of improv is to say yes, and, and we did that, you didn’t just say yes to whatever I was saying you, you contributed something, you added your piece. And this is what companies want right now. They need people who can collaborate. That’s how we will get the new iPhone, that’s how we will get to Mars. It’s not by sitting in a cubicle and thinking of your own ideas. It’s being a part of a team. And when you contribute a piece and I contribute a piece, we’re creating something we never could have created by ourselves. And so that’s exciting. And that’s where innovation lies. And then the third rule of improv is to listen. And we definitely had to listen to each other. To see where we were going. You had no idea that was not planned, right? You had no idea was going to talk about a pink frog. So yeah, we have to listen. But not listen, like we’ve been doing a lot lately in our politics, which is I’m just going to wait for you to stop talking. And then I’m going to shove my idea down your throat, not that kind of listening, right? It’s listening for change, listening to take in that idea, or whatever you’ve given me and go a new direction with it, that I didn’t really anticipate. And our fourth rule of improv is you look good when you make your group look good. And that is certainly important in any business setting. But it’s also important in improv, right? It’s like I can set you up and say, and this frog decide to take a trip. So, I’m giving it to you to come up with where that it is versus me hogging it all and I’m just going to tell you everything about the frog, right? I’m setting this up so that you can contribute something that I would not have thought of, right. And then of course, the fifth rule of improv is just to play. Have fun and fail and dust yourself off and try again. So that’s what we try to do in dynamic leadership because then we participate in the improv exercises. But we also study what it means to be emotionally intelligent so that we can communicate more effectively and adapt to the changing world around us. Listen more actively, so that we become better leaders.

Awesome. Yeah, I definitely I’ve heard some of these improv rules before. So, it’s really cool to kind of see how they tie in to not just like, No, it’s not just for we do games on stage. It’s for like, real-world like application so that’s cool.

Yes, it’s absolutely is for life, we need to adapt, right, we all have that idea of what the perfect Thanksgiving has to be, right, or the perfect Christmas, and we get really upset if or some people get really upset if it’s not that. And that’s, that’s hard on your heart and life, right, we have to adapt to, to the world. And, and if we look at this pandemic that we’ve been in, right, the companies that have done well, are the ones that were flexible. And that’s what it means to be an improviser, you have to be flexible. And it’s those restaurants that all of a sudden went online and were able to get in there with delivery. They’re the ones that have survived. And that’s what we need in life. No more flexibility.

Definitely. Although that topic of flexibility helps me kind of transition to my next question I have for you, because, you know, like you mentioned, sometimes things aren’t gonna go as expected. But typically, people do have an expectation of how things are going to go beforehand. So, what would a student what should they expect? Like the workload is going to be going into a class like this?

Yes, well, the workload is connected to the text. And the text is, is actually quite wonderful. It’s called emotionally intelligent leadership, a guide for students. And what I love so much about it is that it comes in three sections. And the first section, we work on being conscious of self. And to be a great leader, you have to first understand yourself a little bit, and understand your hot button issues. Understand what you know, what works for you, and what doesn’t. As far as nerves, you know, when you get up and give a presentation, why, why am I not breathing? Right? I’ve noticed that, why can I concentrate? Well, I’m not getting a whole lot of oxygen to the brain, because I’ve stopped breathing, right. So, the first thing we need to do is be conscious of self. And certainly, we know that here in the theatre department, we can’t play a part, we can’t be an actor, and take on a character unless we first understand how I do things. And then we can notice what the character does. So that’s, that’s the first thing and then we have exercises that go that connect with that. And then the second section in our text is being conscious of the group. And this idea of being empathetic, I need to notice what the group dynamic is. And we have exercises and assignments that are connected to that section. And then the third section in the text is being conscious of context. So so right now I’m very conscious of the context that we are doing a podcast and people can see me, and so me holding up the book didn’t really work, did it? So, I have to be very conscious of that. But in a meeting situation, right, I made this meeting and if we’re going to be outside, and it starts to rain, right? How am I going to deal with that, right? And being flexible with that, and I notice that the context, you know, might shift? And how am I going to still be an effective leader in that in that world. So, our workload connects to those three sections. So, we have projects and assignments that are connected to that.

Awesome, excellent. It sounds like a really fun class for sure. Um, so that brings me to my next question, then, um, who should be taking this class like, who is who’s encouraged to enter into a class like this?

Well, it fulfills the C1 SELF requirements. So everybody, everybody, actually what I love most is if I can get, and I’ve had it a few times, but if I can get seniors, juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, all in the same class that makes the best class, you know it because everyone brings
such unique and different perspectives to this idea of leadership that we can get a broad range of different types of people at different ages. That works the best.

Oh, it’s excellent. Yeah. How often is this class offered?

Yeah, at this point, we’ve been offering it every semester. Hopefully will continue to be that way. Because it is pretty, pretty fun.

All right. Yeah. Does sound like a lot of fun. But I do have a follow-up question to that idea, though, is there anything that students should take into consideration any warnings for students who might be thinking about this class?

Yeah. Oh, warning, you need to come to class. Okay. Learning happens in class, just like any, you know, you know any art, you know, leadership is a science, but it’s also an art and we have to do it. We have to be in class to lead. We have to be in class to get up and fall flat on our faces and dust ourselves off and do it again, just like an acting class. So you have to be in class, it’s not about reading a text. And then oh, I’ve read the book on leadership. Now. I’m a brilliant leader. That doesn’t happen. We have to try it out. We have to practice it. And that learning happens in class.

Excellent. Okay, cool. So, yeah, good to know. I’m glad that they said emphasis there. Because you’re right. A lot of people can typically just think like, oh, well, if I do the readings, but now this is very active classes. Absolutely. Yes. So, I have one last question. This question I always ask every person I’ve had on the show so far. And it’s a two-parter. So what has been your favorite and least favorite part about teaching this class?

My favorite part is there’s some exercises that we do. And, you know, I present the exercise, and I see fear, and trepidation and sweat. You know, in my student’s eyes and face. And the best thing is, by the end of the class, it’s gone. And they’re interacting, and they’re having fun. And they’re waiting for each other to leave the classroom so that they can talk about what’s next. And, and then they make lifelong friends. And so that’s, that’s the best. The most difficult the hardest part of this class was last year going taking it online. That was hard. And it hurt my heart. Sometimes, because there were some improv classes, we have exercises we absolutely could do on Zoom. That works just fine. We can make the transition, no problem. But there were some that I just had to say yeah, this is not gonna work. Early on, you might remember, you know, zoom, now has some updates, but for a while, you could not move the squares around. And so, there are certain exercises where we have to be in order. And that was problematic. I couldn’t get the order so that everybody sees each other at the same time in the right order. Yeah, that was the worst. And but, you know, we made it work, and it certainly was a good class, but not as good as when it’s face to face if you asked me.

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