10 Things I love about improv (and stuff you might like too)

By Randall | Improv in Life
1 Feb 2012

photo by CaroFarion

I wanted to take a few minutes today to reflect on why I like improv so much. I enjoy watching it, learning about it, doing it, discussing it, and obviously writing about it. I proselytize shamelessly. I started a blog just so I could have another opportunity to tell people what I think about improv, even when no one’s around. In the past year, I’ve had two experiences that really opened my eyes to what an important part of my life improv was becoming.

The first was the night of my graduation show after my level 1 class with Automatic. I was terrified thinking about coming out to face the audience for the first time; it hit a crescendo when I was standing on stage, hot bright lights shining in my eyes, sweat already dripping down my face. But then the fear quietly subsided, as I stepped out and started improvising and the audience started laughing. It’s like a roller coaster – so much anticipation as you slowly climb that first towering hill, then you let loose and just try to hang on for the ride all the way down. By the end of the show, I felt unstoppable, like I could do anything, ready to go out into the world and conquer it, using only the power of my mind and whatever tools I could mime. I was hooked on that feeling, and I wanted more of it.

The second experience was a few months later, when I was TAing another Automatic Improv Level 1 class with Andy Coen. He is an incredible improviser, and has a knack for making people feel comfortable, then capable. He cares about you and believes in you; he makes you care about yourself and believe in yourself; and he makes the class care about and believe in each other. While I was TAing for him, we had a few lengthy conversations about improv and about being humans.

I also took notes for the class and posted them for the students, and each week I would review the few short blurbs I had managed to scribble down in class, then expand and expound upon them. I was surprised to discover that I had a lot to say! I was learning about improv, I was thinking about it and making discoveries, and I was sharing information with new improvisers that would shape how they think of the art forever.

So, why do I care so much?

  1. It gives me confidence. Being good at anything will make you feel confident when doing that activity. Knowing about something will make you feel confident when talking to others and sharing your knowledge. Living is improvising, so the more you learn about improv, the more you know about living well.
  2. Through taking improv classes, I have gotten better at connecting with people, supporting people without judgement, and entertaining an audience. These are now the activities that make me feel confident, and in what social interaction would that not be useful?
  3. We “run to the fear.” Ian Covell used that phrase in one of my first ever improv classes. If something scares you in an improv scene, do it! The audience wants to see it! It will make for a very interesting scene. One of the things that defines us as people is how we respond to what scares us. I like doing things that scare me because fear is such an intense emotion. I like feeling it. I like being reminded that I am alive. If you make a habit of doing things that scare you, you will discover that adventures await you around every corner. “Do something everyday for no other reason than you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test.”-William James
  4. It opens you up to saying yes. This is related to the fear thing. We constantly block ourselves and say no to things, often without even realizing it. Once you start saying “Yes” more, you will be shocked at how often you used to say no.
  5. You are accepted as you are. Everyone brings something unique to an improv scene, and we weave it together into something beautiful.
  6. You focus on living in the moment. When I started reading Free Play, I started drawing some connections between Zen and improv, so I began listening to the Zenprov podcast and reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. I follow a few different minimalist blogs that also champion the tenets of Zen practice (like Zen Habits and mnmlist), and have grown fascinated with being more mindful in life. (Yep, this will probably be a future post)
  7. You change your mindset about failure. Growing up, I always did pretty well in school, but still had to fight back the fear that every time I raised my hand to answer a question, that would be the answer I would get wrong. I was afraid that everyone would realize I was a fraud and not as smart as they, or I, thought I was. But making one mistake doesn’t mean you’re a fraud, and failing once doesn’t mean your a failure. Doing things that you are good at is safe, warm, and comfortable. Doing something you’ve never done before WILL involve some failure. In improv, some of the greatest scenes can grow out of moments that would be seen as “mistakes.” In improv, there are no mistakes; there’s just life, and sometimes life gets a little messy.
  8. You meet great people and make friends easily. This was the main reason why I signed up for classes, and this is what has kept me coming back. People that I meet in class or around the theatre, perennial performers or folks coming out to see their first show, all have been warm and friendly. I think that people are dying to connect with each other. Improv drills us on opening up, being vulnerable, and making emotional connections so we are ready to forge rich friendships when the opportunities arise.
  9. You learn to listen. Listening isn’t just hearing what’s being said; it’s about understanding why it’s being said, along with what’s not being said. Listening is the first step in “yes, and”-ing, and it’s the first step in connecting with other human beings.
  10. You learn to give up control. You can’t just come out on stage in a scene and lay down all your ideas. If you’re miming that you’re raking and your partner comes in and offers to help you with the cake batter, you’ve got to let go of the raking idea and pick up the “caking” idea. What’s awesome is when you keep having scenes that go well, even though you were not directing every detail, and you realize that life can be great even when it’s not scripted.

Yep, I have really gotten a lot out of doing improv. What about you? What do YOU love about improv???

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3 Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    1) I also believe the more you can live life to the fullest and try new experiences, that can make your improvisational skills improve as well.

    4) I think this is the one of the best rules to improve any scene. Even if you are nervous, you can become more comfortable knowing that you cannot mess up a scene if you just yes, and.

    6) Thanks so much for the blog suggestions. I will look into some of these.

    10) This also relates to #9. If you truly listen, the scene can take off in many different magical directions.

  2. Kelly says:

    1) I also believe the more you can live life to the fullest and try new experiences, that can make your improvisational skills improve as well.

    4) I think this is the one of the best rules to improve any scene. Even if you are nervous, you can become more comfortable knowing that you cannot mess up a scene if you just yes, and.

    6) Thanks so much for the blog suggestions. I will look into some of these.

    10) This also relates to #9. If you truly listen, the scene can take off in many different magical directions.

  3. Randall says:

    Kelly, I really like your response to number one. I’ve been thinking lately that I need more life experiences to draw from when doing improv scenes. It makes your scene work that much richer! And it’s good to have a little extra motivation to do the things that I’ve always wanted to to but never got around to. Thanks for posting!

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