The thing about improv is that it makes you feel ready for just about anything. That’s a cool feeling, considering as humans we spend much of our time preparing to be ready, whether it’s for an interview, a presentation, a new client, or a first date. Improv is defined as the art or act of improvising, or of composing, uttering, executing, or arranging anything without previous preparation. The phrase “without previous preparation” might make some people nervous. I find it quite liberating. Personally, I was never a fan of anticipatory anxiety. That always weighed me down. I also like to laugh – as often as possible – because a healthy dose of humor seems to make the heavy things a bit lighter.
However, it wasn’t just the silly fun and laughs (much of which improv is known for) that drew to me to the art, but the idea that I could somehow master being faced with the unexpected – like judo for everyday life. Curve balls come at us every day from all angles – on our commute to work, on a conference call, at the supermarket, at home with family. Some roll right off us, and some stop us in our tracks. As a New Yorker, I already think quick on my feet. But after wrapping up my first class (and show!) at Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center, I feel even more equipped to roll with any curve ball.
1. Improv, though requiring a great deal of practice, is very much based on trusting our instincts and allowing our minds to free associate to the next idea. This is how organic and creative concepts are often born – allowing ourselves to explore the unknown without drawing premature conclusions – even when it seems we have nothing to work with.
2. Improv calls on us to initiate - to step out from against the wall in the middle of the room with nothing but ourselves and our voice. It can very empowering to be in the “spotlight” and discover that nothing scary or bad will happen. We can experiment and be in the moment and learn something new about ourselves.
3. Improv (as a multi-person scene rather than monologue) is about listening and collaborating - paying attention to our scene partner(s) and responding in a way that supports their idea. Remaining focused on the “gifts” we are given enables us to embody and provide what our partner needs.
4. Improv is about saying yes – not being afraid to accept what is tossed our way and seeing it as an opportunity rather than a problem. Building on that yes rather than judging the offer can lead to some wonderful outcomes otherwise never realized.
5. Improv is about adjusting and remaining flexible – probably the most important key to surviving “this thing called life”. We may think we have it all figured out, but we have no magic power to secure any of it. The fragility of life is beyond any of our comprehension.
Mastering the unexpected is perhaps an unrealistic quest, yet for me improv is a satisfying worthwhile way to keep my mind off what may be lurking around the corner. But I’m pretty confident I can face it – or at least make it laugh. Improv – prepare to love it.