Improve – to enhance in value or quality : make better. To advance or make progress in what is desirable.
For years, various people told me I should take an improv class. I found the thought of this pretty uncomfortable – not terrifying, just uncomfortable. I’m a planner, I really need to know what is going to happen – or at least think I do. But that isn’t how life really works, is it? I knew that uncomfortable feeling meant, for me, that improv was something I should try.
Sure, I took acting classes in school – they were always a fun elective. In middle school, I even acted in a local theater group in my hometown of Gainesville (Florida) called Children’s Theater for the Deaf. We put on plays and simultaneously spoke and used sign language. It was a lot of fun and I made some great friends. But this was just fun kids stuff, I’m an adult now – what business do I have taking an improv class? Well, for a guy who is always trying to enhance his creativity – this seemed like the next logical step.
So off I went to Google to find a local Dallas improv class and The Dallas Comedy House in Deep Ellum popped right up. I perused the site, saw a few funny promotional videos and took them up on their recommendation to come check out a show to see if it was something I was interested in. I dragged my friend Derrick one Saturday night and saw a few shows. I was impressed. It was a packed house full of laughter.
Each troop started the 30 minute sets by asking the audience for a one word suggestion to frame up the improv. Lots of words were shouted out – I don’t even remember what was used. I do know this, the shows danced around the chosen word, but didn’t solely focus on it. For example, if the word the chose was “orange”, not every scene had to do with orange. I thought this was pretty creative (I later learned this was something called A to C thinking).
Cut to me a few weeks later taking my first improv class – level one on Sunday afternoons. It was a phenomenal 7-week experience and I learned much more than I thought I would. Here are few cool things I learned:
Yes, and/I Know Because
These simple words are the building blocks of every long form improv scene. “Yes” refers to the agreement you give your scene partner to confirm the reality in the scene. (the who, the what, and the where.) “And” refers to the new information you are adding based on what you just heard.
The sooner you establish the Who, What, and Where at the top of your scene, the better. By getting these details out within the first three lines of a scene, you can start exploring the “why.” It will be very difficult to build upon your scene if you are a minute into it and still have not determined base reality.
Be an Expert
When we are making things up in improv, we get to be an expert in everything. Don’t know what’s going on? Make it up. Make an assumption and turn it into a statement for everyone to hear. When in doubt, be an expert: no need to ask questions.
A to C Thinking
The audience suggestion serves three main functions within long form improv. First, the suggestion proves to the audience that what they are watching is really improvised. Since the suggestion is coming from them, it proves the show is not pre-planned. Secondly it gives inspiration to the show as opposed to having you choose from an infinite list of possibilities. Finally, it gives the team a common point of focus. All that said, the suggestion is meant to inspire, it is just that – an inspiration, not “the thing.”
Take the suggestion as “A” which makes you think of “B” and ultimately you initiate with “C.” You may want to jump right on the main suggestion, but it is much more interesting to take the story to “C”. Let’s use orange as an example – oranges make me think of Florida where I grew up, so my “C” could be alligators or palm trees or anything else that may remind me of Florida.
In conclusion…Improv class helped me ‘improve’ both my work life and personal life in many ways. It taught me to be OK with “not knowing” what was going to happen. It taught me how to support those I work with. It taught me there are no mistakes.
Are you interested in getting out of your comfort zone and learning a few life lessons? Take an improv class – you won’t be disappointed.