9 Things I Learned Doing Improv Theater

9 Things I Learned Doing Improv Theater

For a good while, I was doing Improv Theater a couple of times a week.

Now that I'm in lockdown during Corona, I'm longing for that time.

I miss being around people.

But then again, I would have never started putting myself out there in public, if it hadn't been for Corona, so I'm actually grateful for this.

To quote from one of my favorite books: "The obstacle is the way".

With that said, here's a couple of things Improv Theater, especially Improv Comedy taught me:


1. YES, AND...

This is by far the #1 concept on this list.

The "yes, and..." concept means to never block your fellow actor, but instead, to embrace and even amplify whatever it is that they're giving to you.

So if I go "Wow, this garden is soooo beautiful..."

You might do something like "Yes, and see those gorgeous flowers over there..?'


In other words, you, as my scene partner, absolutely always take the offer and run with it.

Notice I also said "you might do something like...".

This is because of #2...


2. YOU CANNOT NOT COMMUNICATE

The well-known psychologist Paul Watzlawick once said that you cannot not communicate. And of course, he was right.

Whether you're ignoring me, talking at me or talking with me, you cannot not communicate (with me, ha!).

This one time a fellow actress literally came onto the scene, lied down and closed her eyes.

Talk about not communicating hahaha.

But also, talk about #3...


3. NEVER BREAK RAPPORT

According to Wikipedia,

"Rapport is a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned are “in sync” with each other, understand each other's feelings or ideas, and communicate smoothly."

The whole point of "yes and" is to establish rapport.

Why? So you and your scene partner(s) can play with each other (no, not in that way, you naughty girl).

If you break rapport, the scene is pretty much over. And you feel it. The audience feels it. Most importantly, your scene partner(s) feel it.

It's kind of like when you're deep in conversation with a person you care for and then your phone rings.

Instantly, you're out of it...

Now, you can of course get back into it...

But, it's gonna take a while.

Just don't break rapport.


4.  BE IN THE MOMENT

Don't ever prepare ahead of time what to say. Ever. Because, once you're on stage and the offer no longer meets your expectations, you're fucked.

You'll either freeze or completely hijack the scene with your own agenda.

I know what you're gonna say:

"BUT I'M A NERVOUS WRECK, I'M ABOUT TO PEE MY PANTS, THERE'S PEOPLE WATCHING AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO SAY..?!"

Been there done that. Believe me. And yup, also the peeing part.

Great memories, but I digress...

Take baby steps.

And tell yourself over and over that you're a badass for mustering the courage to face your fears.

Whatever happens, it's a win already.


5. DON'T JUDGE YOURSELF

This is easier said than done.

Trust that the people around you have your back.

Improv is a safe space.

And everyone else is busy thinking about their own shit, trust me.

Unless they're super in the moment and in the scene...

In which case per definition they're not thinking about you.


6. NEVER BLOCK YOUR SCENE PARTNER'S OFFER

"Sheroooonda, Sherooooonda, where my light saber at?"

Ahm...excuse? The fuck?

Yeah, you might be super lost and confused right now, but, as Lil Dicky likes to say "that's not for you to determine".

What is for you to determine right quick is a YES AND sorta reply.

Something like "I was just charging it for you. It's at 95 % battery. Here you go".

See, now the game is on and it got real freaking interesting to watch too.


7. NO QUESTION AS AN OFFER

This one is real difficult.

You see, you don't wanna block the flow of the scene by asking questions.

Now, some very skilled improvisers might be able to pull off a question here and there, but for you and I, na ah. Don't do it.

In the above example with the light saber for instance, you might wanna reply back something like "ahm...I don't know. Maybe you forgot it in the car or something?"

No bueno my friend.

Because all you just did is block the natural flow of things.

You literally blocked the offer your scene partner just gave you.

It was gonna be about the light saber, at least that's how the scene was going to start...but now that you blocked your scene partner, they'll have to come up with something else instead...

...And real fast too because otherwise, guess what...?

They'll have to yes-and your offer, which, in this case, would be to literally "go check for it in the car" aka leave the stage.

Congrats my man (or my girl), you just did the shortest improv session in the history of the world.


8. HIGH STATUS, LOW STATUS

Awwww, the status game, gotta love that shit.

My former improv teacher (Rob, if you're reading this, thanks again for being the best teacher ever) really drove this one home with all of us.

You see, most people are naturally either high or low status.

And yes, I realize there are exceptions to the rule, but I'm talking in general.

So, status, in Improv, is defined mostly by your body language. It's the whole "you cannot not communicate thing" (see #3).

Rob would have us practise our non-natural state obsessively. He liked to remind us that in order to be good improvisers, we'd have to be able to play both high and low status convincingly.

For me personally, the biggest takeaway from this was how easily my body language can influence my mood, status and yes, my wellbeing. Both in a good and in a bad way.

I later came across this TED talk that pretty much seems to support everything I just said:

 Also, since I'm a firm believer in getting better instead of being right:

Please, if you sense any amount of confirmation bias in this, call me out on it on social media. Maybe there are new studies that I haven't come across yet :)  


9. GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD

Pretty self-explanatory really.

THINK != PLAY

Or for all the non-nerds out there, think doesn't equal play.

So go do some yoga, maybe play ball with your friends, goof around with your dog...

My dog Nemo about to play real hard

Anything really to get out of your head and shut up that incessant stream of thoughts.

Because it's only when you're in a relaxed yet alert state (alpha brain waves anyone?) that you're any good as an improviser...

And I think right now, during these challenging times, we could all use a little more of that sweet, sweet play in our lives.

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