This fall I signed up for Improv 100, one of the classes available from the Seattle improv group Unexpected Productions. It was one of the most enriching and entertaining things I’ve ever done. Every Tuesday night, I could count on bonding with complete strangers, laughing till I cried (I think I got abs from laughing so hard at this class), and having at least three Oprah-style “aha moments” about art and story and life. Improv class is both a playground for adults and a high-velocity lab where you can see truths about life and creativity unfolding and developing before your eyes.
Danielle LaPorte once said that taking an improv class “could teach you more about innovation, relationships, success, and sexuality than any therapist or self help book.” After having duly experimented, I conclude that she’s right. Everything you need to know in life you can learn from an improv class:
Be present. If you listen, you don’t have to think so hard. Never underestimate instinct. But you do have to be totally present, grounded, and ready for that killer instinct to kick in.
It’s always better to be told to scale it down than scale it up. Start by giving things 100% energy & enthusiasm, the best, boldest, brightest you have. You can always chill the eff out later.
Say yes, and…to other people’s ideas. Don’t block them. One of the fundamental rules in improv is to say yes…and! If someone in a scene says, “hey, let’s steal this car!,” you’re not supposed to say, “No, you idiot, that’s a terrible idea. Let’s go to the movies instead.” That makes for a boring & negative scene. What you’re supposed to say is “YES! And let’s break all the windows and hot-wire it!”
Your life experience is an incredibly rich source of imagination rocket fuel. Nobody has a boring life. I thought I did, then I realized how based on the little I’ve seen and experienced, I had a bottomless source of off the cuff ideas. And so did my classmates. I realized I never have to be afraid of running out of ideas.
You don’t always have to be the star of the show. Sometimes, you need to be a supporting character. Sometimes, you need to be a tree.
Learn all the rules first, then break them. But just because you’re gonna break the rules doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn them first. How are you going to know what rules to break (or why, or how) if you don’t know them?
Have you taken an improv class before? If you haven’t what are you waiting for? If you have, I’d love to know what you thought of it & what you learned.