November 5, 2013

Why Every Person Should Take An Improv Class

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The Office: Season Two
The Office: Season Two

The first time I stepped into an improv class was July of 2005. I was an awkward, terrified 19-year-old. I had no idea what to expect but I knew that I had wanted to do it for years and that now was the time. I also knew that it was time to come out of my shell and find the person I wanted to be and finally start showcasing that person. I knew that improv was the way to do that… and I was right.

From that very first class, everything changed. I had a whole new perspective! I wasn’t totally sure that I wanted to pursue comedy – I was in college studying marketing and art history at the time – but as I continued through the training center, I knew that it was the only thing I was passionate about and wanted to pursue. So I did.

I have been consistently performing improv comedy for eight years. And I have been teaching for three. It’s my favorite thing to do and my favorite subject to discuss! Since improv has been a part of my life, I’ve realized how beneficial it is to almost every aspect of my life. Studying improv has obviously made me a stronger performer, but it has also made me a better (faster, stronger) person. So, with that said, here is why I honestly believe every single person on Earth could benefit from taking an improv class.

1. Confidence! I’ll admit that it’s pretty scary to walk into a room full of strangers as an adult and do strange improv exercises. However, the idea that I push when running warm-ups and games is that everybody is in the same boat. You’re not the only one who looks stupid – we all do! That’s a great way to look at life in general – we all have struggles, issues, bad days, good days and it’s kind of nice to realize we’re all in this together. Improv changed the way I viewed myself. Mostly, I was just excited that I went out and did something for myself that I had always wanted to do but was too afraid. But it also gave me an air of confidence that I never had! I stopped caring about the small, inane things like what people thought of me, what I looked like, what I was going to do next… it helped me live in the moment and like myself while doing that.

2. Fail easier! One of my favorite aspects of performing improv is that you get up there and do something and you know IMMEDIATELY whether or not it worked. That is both terrifying and awesome. It’s not like applying for a job, waiting to get called in to interview, going to the interview all nervous and putting all your time and effort into what you’re going to wear and say, hoping you did well and then waiting to see whether or not they liked you enough to give you the job. Improv takes away all the mystery. You don’t have time to pre-plan what you’re going to say, so you just go out there and do it and you get an immediate response. And sometimes, the response is uproarious laughter! Other times… crickets. But the more you do it; the more comfortable you get with it.

There’s nothing wrong with getting no response, because you have a bunch of other chances to win them back. You also learn from your mistakes. (If the reason you got crickets was because you made a Nazi joke you thought was hilarious… maybe, I don’t know, don’t do that again?) You slowly start to forget the fear of failing, because you’re used to moving right on. You start taking more chances in life because who cares if you fail? If it didn’t work out, try again, and if it still doesn’t – on to the next thing!

3. Say Yes! The sort of cheesy philosophy of improv is the idea of “yes, and”. Not only are you saying, “Yes” but you’re also providing more information. By saying yes, you move action forward instead of stalling it. And you can “and” that “yes” by building off the original idea and brainstorming new ones! For example, imagine you’re at work and someone came up to you and said “We should have a group outing for company morale.” You could say, “No, we don’t have the money or time.” And the action is then stalled. Or, you could say, “You know what, that’s a great idea. Maybe we could go to a park on a Sunday and play a game of tag football and provide food and beverages to cut down on cost but still let the employees know we care.” Think of when a friend suggests trying something new over the weekend and your initial reaction is “What’s wrong with what we do every weekend?!” You’re going to stall the action, make your friend feel bad and miss out on new experiences. Instead, say yes… and provide some options that you’d be interested in trying – like maybe going to a live comedy show instead of the movies or drinking at a bar? I don’t know, just as an example. (I’m in one every Thursday-Saturday night… so… you can check that out.) Don’t say no just because it’s easy – find options and make it work!

4. Social benefits! Get ready to make a ton of friends you never thought you’d be friends with. Improv attracts all types of people and over the years I’ve collected friends who are doctors, radio personalities, marketing professionals, disc jockeys, graphic designers, Marines… basically, you’re going to meet people who enjoy grabbing a drink on a week night. And your life is going to be better because of it (even if you don’t drink.) It’s cool to get together with people outside of your main group of friends and bond over why you started taking improv classes. It negates the idea that making friends past college is impossible. You get to form a whole group of new friends that you also don’t have to work with every single day… and who don’t know every little thing about your past like some of your high school/college friends.

5. Think fast! In an improv class, you’re not training to be FUNNY, your humor is natural, but you are training your brain to act faster. It’s a helpful tool for any situation. It has helped me in job interviews when I’m asked questions that I haven’t prepared an answer for. My brain has somehow found a way of organizing sentences, ideas and responses right away despite my lack of preparation. In fact, preparation is almost a thing of the past in most situations! And that frees up time for other things like sleeping longer in the morning, watching another episode of your favorite TV show on Netflix… and singing in the mirror while blow drying your hair. Lying is also a lot easier, in case that’s something you’re into.

6. Basically, improv is awesome. Even if you don’t want to be an actor, improviser, writer or performer – it’s a super beneficial skill to have. It encourages you to fuck the fear and be a confident, risk-taking and positive person. All of a sudden, you’ll find yourself solving problems with ease and not turning down new ideas. You’ll have a whole new set of people to call when you want to grab a drink or three. You’re going to fail at some things… and it’s going to be so much easier to deal with. So, do it! Take a risk, sign up for a class and get ready for a whole new outlook. Oh, and in case it’s not obvious… the most fun time of your life. TC Mark

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