Bonnie storyteller improv

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My guest today is Bonnie Grotjahn, a psychotherapist and recent improv theatre convert, who has had a very varied career. Originally from the US, Bonnie lived in Russia for 7 years before coming to the UK 17 years ago and is now based in Stroud in Gloucestershire. In this episode, she shares her recent exploration into long-form improv theatre and how she is planning on extending that and combining it with her interesting life history into a one-woman show. Bonnie also shares her tips for finding inspiration and dealing with the problem of having too many ideas.

What you will learn in this episode:

  • Bonnie’s story
  • What creative projects Bonnie is currently working on
  • A bit more about her one-woman show
  • Bonnie’s tips for finding inspiration
  • How to keep track of ideas and deal with too many ideas
  • Suggested creative tools and approaches

Bonnie’s story

Bonnie has a degree in Russian and East European studies, which led her on an adventure in the 90s to Russia where she taught English. She also worked for a small Quaker project around social justice. Then, when she came to the UK and while she was studying to be a psychotherapist, she got work as a project worker for The Children’s Society in South London. She also became a Caretaker for a Quaker Meetinghouse part-time while seeing a few psychotherapy clients.

Bonnie says she feels like her life is a creative project. She has often combined different bits and pieces of work. Having been through some big changes in her personal life in the past couple of years, she’s recently been striking out in new directions. ‘Life is here now, not to be wasted. “What do I want to do?” is the question that’s been coming up a lot for her lately. Professionally, Bonnie has a small private practice as a therapist and also runs group coaching for self-employed people. Creatively, she has several projects on the go.

Current Creative Projects

Last autumn, Bonnie did a public speaking course about sharing a personal story in public in a connected way. She did this with a group of 5 women, all challenging and supporting each other. It culminated in a public event at a small performance space in Stroud. They blew themselves away (and the man that ran the course) so much that they have since done 2 more shows with the wider community, teaching them ways of connecting and getting into their bodies rather than panicking when on stage, which is easy to do. The group is now called A Story Party, which is similar to the events started by Beverley Glick in London.

Bonnie had too many ideas for what to share in the speaking course and felt really overwhelmed at times, but also had the idea of doing a one-woman show. From this idea and at the encouragement of some friends, she began doing long-form improv theatre workshops. She decided that if she was going to do a one-woman show, she needed to be ‘adding to her plot’. This has been another exercise in pushing her comfort zone, but it’s a nice group where they are all encouraged to support each other. The idea behind improv is to start with a tiny bit of an idea, listen to what’s happening or what’s inside of you, say yes and commit. So it’s about engaging and being in the moment. Some attempts go better than others, just like in life.

The One-Woman Show

Bonnie isn’t quite sure yet what journey the One Woman Show is going to take her on. She has just started learning the ukulele because that will be some part of it, along with the improv and story sharing. It will likely be about her life story being an American, living in Russia and then the UK. Bonnie feels she is opening herself up to the universe in a larger way than she has before and some bizarre things have come out of it. Serendipitously, another one-woman show about living in Russia in the 90s came to Stroud and she met a Russian woman on a bus in Stroud who has invited her to stay in her flat in St. Petersburg, Russia (where she once lived). Originally she thought she wanted to do the show this year but has decided to enjoy the process so now it will be next year.

Tips for finding inspiration

Bonnie feels that when she’s lacking inspiration it’s often because she’s trying too hard or putting herself under pressure. So she likes to take the pressure off, go out for a walk or cycle, or meet a friend for a drink, and that helps spark inspiration. The long-form improv has also helped with inspiration because it is about practicing starting with anything and building on it until you come up with something. She also finds ideas grow from talking to people, especially creative people, and from things like looking at photos from life in Russia that she hasn’t seen in years.

Cycling is a big source of inspiration for Bonnie. She takes photos more often when going cycling alone, as the dynamic is different when going with a group. She enjoys looking at shapes and colours in the landscape, and signs and maps about the journey also give her ideas.

Keeping track of ideas and dealing with too many ideas

Bonnie uses notebooks of various sorts, as well as the voice memo function on her phone, which is particularly helpful for recording ideas when cycling. The one-woman show has its own dedicated notebook/scrap book as well as a box of inspirational and relevant photographs.

Having too many ideas is a problem Bonnie has. She finds one thing that helps is accountability and deadlines. When she is doing a course, like the story-telling course, every week they had opportunity for accountability and feedback. Putting on a show is also a form of accountability and a deadline that gets things done, but even internally set deadlines work for Bonnie. She also likes talking to a sympathetic and understanding friend, somebody who will be honest about her ideas, but not make the decision for her.

Suggested creative tools and approaches

Bonnie uses her phone a lot for photos and voice memos. She also likes notebooks and has an A3 sized sketchbook that she loves.

One suggestion from Bonnie is to do courses and activities to take yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s important to put something out into the world, see what happens and build on it. She says this makes life more fun and also helps her work against decades of perfectionism.

Connect with Bonnie

Bonnie has two websites, one for therapy work and one for group coaching. The therapy one is boatherapy.weebly.com and the group coaching for self-employed people is www.opentoquestion.com