Improv for Children’s Stories w/ Mara Alperin

Improvisation and Children’s Stories sound like a match made in heaven! Fascinated to see how those two different worlds collide, we talked to Story Producer Mara Alperin of Wonderbly, a company which specialises in creating personalised children’s books.

She told us about the benefits of ‘Yes And’ in the creative process, how to counter our own inner critic and why you might not want to invite a unicorn to your birthday party…

Hi Mara! Can you tell us a bit more about your work?

I’m a Story Producer at Wonderbly Books, where we make personalised children’s picture books. My role as a Producer is to run creative workshops to develop new ideas, and then lead the team in creating and delivering these new books.

What led you to taking an improv workshop in the first place?

My background is in writing, and I feel very confident putting ideas down on paper. But I’m much more apprehensive when it comes to brainstorming aloud. Sometimes I stop myself calling out ideas because I start to think: “Is this really a good idea? Hrm, maybe I should think it through completely before saying anything…”.

I think part of it comes from being an introvert – I would rather mull through things alone in my head or on paper. Shouting out ideas that I haven’t processed yet feels very unnatural (even though I’ve been doing it for about 6 years now!) and it takes a lot more energy. 

I didn’t want that voice inside to hold my creativity back. I have wanted to try an improv workshop for a very long time, and in 2020 I decided to be very brave and make it my New Year’s Resolution to sign up for an intro course!

What have been some of the main takeaways from taking part in Hoopla workshops?

I’ve used many of the short games as warm-ups in creative workshops to help writers, illustrators and other producers tap into their imaginations. One of my favourites is the storytelling game where each person says one line at a time, so you build a story collaboratively. This one works really well remotely too – which is great, because I’ve been working from home since March last year! (Check out some similar games here:

I also love any “yes and” game! “Yes and” creates a really positive space where it feels more encouraging to think aloud, and I gain energy from others’ excitement and taking things I’ve said forwards. 

It’s so much easier for people to explore ideas for a new story or character when you know your partner is 100% on board with whatever you say and is ready to build on it, no matter how bizarre things may get! Especially within the world of children’s books – bizarre things happen all the time, and children accept it and love it!

One recent book I worked on is about a birthday party where lots of unusual guests turn up – a unicorn, a dragon, a robot, and so on. We accepted this idea without overthinking it, and it gave us the space to imagine all sorts of fun scenes playing out – what if the unicorn’s horn popped all the balloons? What if the dragon set the birthday cake on fire? I love when everyone is on board with: “If this is true, then what else is true?”

Any other things you’d like to share?

I love how friendly and welcoming everyone in the Hoopla community is! I’ve met so many lovely people, and it’s made me want to keep signing up for more courses!

Want to know more?

A huge thank you to Mara Alperin, we can’t wait to see what other amazing and fantastical stories she’ll be able to come up with!

For more on storytelling, check out our blog from Max Dickins:

Want to clue up on brainstorms? Try here:

To get more information on Yes And and other improv techniques for business:

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