What improv has taught me

1. Bring something to the table.

Me: “That’s a really nice dress you have on.”

You: “Wow you must be blind. I’m clearly wearing a t-shirt and jeans.”

[Scene dies, audience squirms]

Take 2

Me: “That’s a really nice dress you have on.”

You: “Thanks, it’s for my quinceañera tomorrow! I had to wrestle another girl to the ground for it.”

2. Listen.

We’ve all been in conversations where one (or both) parties is too preoccupied with pushing their own agenda to pay attention to the other person.

In improv, even more so than in normal interactions, you’re constantly thinking (read: freaking out) about what you’re going to say and do next. The problem is that it’s near impossible to build momentum this way, let alone capitalize on the nuances that make a scene memorable.

3. No (wo)man is an island.

You might have a creative spark of genius and see the scene evolving in a certain direction, but your fellow actors take a different interpretation or change the relationship between your characters. Roll with it.

At the same time, there’s going to be those inevitable moments when you draw a total blank. NBD. That’s what your scene partners are there for, lean on them!

4. Fake it until you make it.

I remember one class where we played a gamed called “Bad Celebrity Impressions”; we had to act out a scene while imitating a celebrity that the teacher secretly assigned each of us.

30 seconds into the first scene it was clear one of the girls had no idea who she was supposed to be. “It’s ok, there’s no wrong answer,” Rick coached from the side. “That’s why this game is called Bad Celebrity Impressions.”

But she couldn’t seem to break free from the notion of trying to emulate a character she didn’t know. The longer she mulled and waited, the harder it became to insert herself into the scene.

It turns out she wasn’t the only one who had never heard of the celebrity they were supposed to be imitating. Another girl’s version of Dan Aykroyd had a British accent and a spastic left foot, but no one in the audience cared. It was funny, regardless.

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