July 22, 2013

Hartford improv group brings out truth in business

Contributed photo
Contributed photo
Members of Hartford comedy troupe Sea Tea Improv, pictured above, have expanded their business to include communication workshops for businesses in Greater Hartford. Sea Tea Improv opened a studio on Hartford’s Pratt Street last year.
Photo | Contributed
Sea Tea Improv group member Greg Ludovici, left, assists business professionals with their communication skills.

Improv groups are known for a few things: crashing house parties, frequenting various clubs and stages, and creating elaborate scenes out of a few suggestions from an audience.

Hartford comedy troupe Sea Tea Improv has gone one step further, extending beyond the improv mold by holding communication workshops with businesses and corporate professionals in Central Connecticut.

Sea Tea started as an arts and entertainment group in 2009, but quickly diversified its business seeing an opportunity to help small and large companies learn the art of communication, said Sea Tea group member Greg Ludovici

The idea blossomed after the group performed an improv show at a Hartford insurance agency a few years ago, and was asked by the company to hold a follow-up workshop for employees.

The fit seemed natural, Ludovici said, because improv skills are essential to learning how to interact well with others.

Since then, Sea Tea has worked with some Connecticut corporate heavyweights including Bloomfield insurer Cigna, outsourcing and consulting firm Accenture, and East Hartford aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.

"What we want to do is show that there's a value to this improv thing that, on its face, looks weird and artsy and like playing pretend," said Sea Tea group member Dan Russell. "Every time we go to a workplace, we see people making connections and seeing the value in improv, and that's very rewarding for us."

Sea Tea, which opened a downtown Hartford studio last year on Pratt Street, focuses its business workshop sessions mainly on improving employee communication, but also draws in on specific areas of potential improvement for each professional environment it encounters.

The company works with business professionals on everything from how to better listen to customers, to teaching managers how to allow their employees to finish sentences before interrupting.

Workshop highlights can range from employees and bosses acting out role-playing activities to teaching managers how to better deal with more difficult conversations.

"We don't teach people to be funny; we teach people to be truthful," Ludovici said, echoing one of the group's defining sentiments. "The truth is always the funniest thing."

Barry Armata of Hartford law firm Brown, Paindiris & Scott sought out Sea Tea to improve the collaborative relationships and communication skills of his legal staff.

Armata's firm acted out everyday scenarios that taught them how to better handle pressurized situations and not show up a teammate's skills.

"Always make your partner look good," Armata said, recalling one of the group's lessons that had stuck with him and his coworkers. "It is so essential for my group of lawyers to work together to be successful, and Sea Tea was able to focus in on that and tie it into what we needed."

Sea Tea prides itself on being able to take advantage of improv's flexible nature, Ludovici said. The group customizes each business workshop based on a company's different industry or improvement needs.

Pratt & Whitney tapped Sea Tea to help with an innovation-based workshop, said Georgia Louca, an employee engagement team leader at the aerospace manufacturer. Sea Tea worked with Pratt employees using role-playing and other improv activities to improve large and small group team collaboration.

Pratt & Whitney employees were split into groups to focus on coaching, guidance, and other specifics the business was hoping to improve, Louca said.

"With the workshop behind us, people are a little more conscious about letting others finish their sentences before interrupting," Louca said.

Sea Tea has worked with as few as five or six people to as many as 100 at a time during its workshops. With such a wide reach, the group sees itself as an ambassador for improv, said Russell.

The group aims to show workshop participants and others how relatable improv's lessons can translate to everyday business practices.

Some workshops start off with hesitant employees, but shy participants are predominantly rare, Ludovici said.

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