What I Learned From Improv

I am a Theatre major and when I started college, I had to take some basic acting classes. Among the few, my favorite was, Introduction to Performance. This class had you on your feet every lesson. It was basically an Improv class that was taught by two teaching assistants who were juniors/seniors in the department. I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t taken this class my freshman year. For those of you who are not familiar with improvisation, improv is a form a unscripted performance. Actors perform and act spontaneously using improv techniques such as CROW (character, relationship, objective and where). The class gave me skills that have helped me in nearly all aspects of my life. We even had an improv showcase that was performed for all of our peers, completely unprepared. It’s scary, and it forces the actor to put themselves out there, but it is also one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

I was very vocal about teaching theatre and the director of the University Center for the Arts gave me the opportunity to actually teach the class that taught me so much. It was extremely daunting at first. I remember reading in my Literacy and the Learner class that it is much harder to teach something you know. This semester, however, has proved to be a fantastic one with my class going well. The class focuses on imagination as the actor’s primary resource. From my experiences as a student in the class and actually teaching the class, I have compiled a list of tips I have learned specifically from Improv that would be pertinent to everyone, and an example of how any subject can relate to your student’s lives and our own as aspiring educators.

 

1. “Dare to be dull.”

When most people start improvising, they think they need to create crazy characters and wacky situations to be funny.  But the reality is that comedy comes from truth–it doesn’t need flashing lights or fancy fog machines. The same is true when it comes to certain work and life situations.  Success isn’t about getting the newest gadget (aka the flashing lights); success comes from hard-work and planning, which might be viewed as dull, but it is effective.

2. “Make a connection with the other player.”

Improv is a team-sport, as are work and life.  To have a successful improv scene, you must connect to the other player and focus on your relationship.  It’s easy to forget about this when performing on a stage in front of people, and just as easy to forget when trying to make a sale or talking to our significant other.   But life is about relationships and connections, not material objects or status.

3. “Make it about the present.”

To see two characters reminisce about their history or to talk about future plans is boring to the audience–we want to see them act now.  Life is the same way, except we’re the characters.  Too often we are caught up in one happened awhile ago or what we should plan for, and we completely ignore the present, the now.  By focusing on the now we start to take control and experience life, instead of missing it.

4. “Never expect a certain answer or reaction.  Just listen and react to what was actually said.”

Our education system has taught us to listen to react–to start to formulate an answer for the question our teacher is asking us, before she’s even finished asking it.  The problem is that in meetings and conversations, we stop listening once we think we know what someone is going to say because we start thinking about our response–often missing the true point of what is being said.  If you want to be a better communicator, stop assuming you know what is being communicated and start listening to what is actually being said.

5. “Make your fellow players look like geniuses.”

When you treat other people like geniuses, you’ll often find that they are.  Too often we look at what mistakes people have made instead of seeing what they’ve done correctly.  When you look for the positives and build on successes, your team (or family) can achieve far better success both as individuals and as a team.

6. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing on stage, as long as you sell it.”

This is known as the “Karaoke Rule”–you don’t have to be the greatest singer to be good at karaoke, you just have to sell it.  If you don’t, people will pick up on your  nervousness and you’ll lose them as an audience.  So whether you are standing in front of your class giving a lesson or about to belt out the words to “Hit Me Baby One More Time”, you’ll find much better success by giving it your all and selling it.

7. “Be more brave than impressive.”

When I first started performing improv, I thought I always had to try to come up with the wittiest thing to say or add wordplay or puns to get a laugh.  While wit can be funny, it’s not what entertains the audience–bold choices are.  What you’ll soon find out is that being bold is what makes you impressive, regardless of what you are doing.

8. “When in doubt, have fun.”

Sometimes, before a big show, I make sure I remind myself that improv is fun–that’s why I do it.  I step on stage to have fun and entertain others.  So when I’m in a scene and I’m not sure what else to do, I do what is fun; I play games, I make interesting choices, and I enjoy myself.  Because in improv there is no right or wrong, just fun.  By now you should know what I’m going to say–life is the same way and we should aim to make our classroom environment the same way too.  Excluding immoral / illegal activities, there is no wrong in life, only what you choose to make it.  So when in doubt, choose fun.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” – Dale Carnegie

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One thought on “What I Learned From Improv

  1. tealanaronn says:

    This was so great! I love theatre, have been in shows all my life, and you do realize how it helps. I love your commentary on the ‘karaoke’ rule- it is so true. When you are bold and just go for it- that is when people respect you. If you are a teacher and you are nervous, your students will walk all over you. Improv is great, and scary. I have done improv a few times myself, but I do feel like it has made me stronger!

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