If you’re not familiar with the “rules” of improv, I’ll summarize by saying that at it’s core, improv is not about making people laugh – it’s about supporting your scene partner, listening carefully and being patient to see where collaborative imagination takes you. Improv is about being brave and vulnerable and honest. It’s about building something one small, fragile, beautiful idea at a time.
Of the many things I’ve learned as an improviser over the past couple of years, here are 5 of my favorite nuggets of wisdom that are as applicable both on stage and off:
1. Don’t wait for someone to invite you onto the stage. If you have an idea for something to add, get out there and add it! I’ve found this lesson especially helpful in my professional life. I’m routinely surprised by how often my ideas are welcomed without a formal invitation, when I otherwise would have held back for fear of overstepping.
2. Go when inspiration strikes! Take action while you have that burst of warm, exciting energy for something. If you wait to plan all the way through an idea instead of jumping out when it hits you, you’ll miss your opportunity. In life, you’ll psych yourself out of so many good things while you consider all the possible reasons why you could fail. Trust your creativity!
3. Know when you’re not needed on stage. Maybe you have a different idea for a scene than the one that’s happening on stage. Sure, your idea might be just as good, but “different than how you would do it” isn’t the same as “wrong and desperately needing your input.” Especially if you’re in a position of leadership, know when folks are doing just fine without you. That’s okay!
4. Listen. Think. Add Something Genuine. This is a very basic principle of improv that is usually summarized as “Yes, And.” This is crucial for building a scene on stage and also for communicating well in life. Personal arguments, professional disagreements, political debates – think of how much smoother those interactions would go if all involved were listening, then thinking, and then adding something true and helpful. Boom. World peace. Thanks, improv.
5. Be Yourself. I am not funny the way Amy Schumer is funny, or the way Bill Hader is funny, or the way Steve Carell is funny. I come from Bible Quizzing and church camp, and I understand about 3% of the cultural references my scene partners make on stage. Can’t help it – them’s ma roots. And that’s okay. Be who you are – use the tools that are naturally inside of you. Not saying you can’t expand your toolbox, but don’t neglect what’s uniquely yours to offer the world.