Things I Know 157 of 365: Improv

After an improviser learns to trust and follow his own inner voice, he begins to do the same with his fellow players’ inner voices. Once he puts his own ego out of the way, he stops judging the ideas of others – instead, he considers them brilliant, and eagerly follows them!

– Del Close and Charna Halpern

Tonight was the first of what will be a precipitous stream of lasts in the next few weeks.

Tonight marked my last rehearsal with Fletcher, my improv troupe here in Philadelphia for almost 2 years.

I realize the idea of an improv rehearsal elicits the obvious jokes. Let me head those jokes off by clarifying that the habits of mind necessary for successful improvisational comedy come from working with and learning from your fellow performers over time.

During my first week of my freshman year in college, I followed the advice of some fliers on the Quad and went to a show for the Improv Mafia, the campus’ improv troupe.

I’d never seen live improv before, and I was hooked.

The following weekend I auditioned and I’ve been improvising in some fashion for the last dozen years.

During my first year in Sarasota, something was off and amiss. Again, I followed an ad in a local paper to an improv show. I realized what had been missing.

Twice weekly for four years of college I met with the Mafia and had a kinetic, hyperactive release for the energy in my brain. For the first year in Sarasota, that energy had nowhere to go. Sure, humor and improv had worked their way into my teaching, but it wasn’t the same.

Soon after that first show in Florida, I had an audition and place in the troupe.

The pattern repeated itself when I moved to Philadelphia.

Performing improv allowed for a voice and persona different than the one I take with me to SLA and different even from the voice I use when writing here.

Though improv is different than my teaching, the language that guides a successful improv scene has certainly influenced my classroom practice:

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Never negate.
  • Yes, and… not No, but…
  • Always support your scene partner.
  • Approach every interaction from the mindset, “My idea is good, and your idea is better.”
  • You can pull anything out of your pocket at any moment.
  • Agree.
  • At least 70 percent of improv fails.
  • Expand and explore.
  • Listen.
  • Check in with your scene partner.
  • Focus.
  • If you’re trying to be funny, you probably aren’t.
  • Say what you see and do something different.

Honestly, I think a person could build a pretty superb life around these guidelines.

By all accounts, next year I’ll be busier than I’ve ever been before. Things aren’t looking hopeful on the improv front. Still, somewhere between all-nighters and final exams, I hope I can make time to catch a set somewhere. No matter how busy I am, I know I’ll need to laugh.

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