What 12 Weeks Of Improv Have Taught Me
“Don’t you have enough uncertainty in your life?” — people kept asking me when I decided to join an improv class in Zurich. Indeed, being almost kicked out of the country, homeless and heart-broken was more than enough chaos one person can handle. But I never even assumed improv will bring more chaos to my life. On the contrary, it was a way to learn how to adapt to absolutely anything, go with the flow and try to build a nice story out of what you have.
Improv is a tool that helps you deal with uncertainty. All emotional agility books tell you we feel negative emotions when things are not going the way we want them to, so I thought it’s time to learn how to stop having everything planned and let my life happen in real time. Together with a bunch of crazy, smart and talented people. And it impacted me a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Be now. To some extent improv is a mindfulness exercise. If you’re familiar with the Flow theory, it’s exactly about the same. Improv is real-time. It’s happening now and it will never happen the same way again. So if you’re not present, you’re missing out. If you are focused, you’re creating something unique right here right now. And this feeling is beautiful!
2. Failure is not scary. This part is a perfectionist’s nightmare 😱. When you’re used to doing things at your best, improv quickly challenges you. You fail every single day. Because the result is not always in your control. But failing is part of the experience. You fail, you accept it, your partners save you and take over, you move on. Failure doesn’t mean judgement. And this is exactly the line improv helped me draw in the other aspects of my life as well.
3. You’re not alone in this boat. It’s not only about you, it’s about listening to your parters on stage and saying “yes” to whatever they offer you. Only together you can build a cohesive story. Improv is a dialogue, it’s an act of collaboration. And the more you want to help your partner on stage — the better your story is. Improv is a selfless experience.
Here’s the scheme our teacher shared with us on the first class. How to succeed in improv:
Be present ->Say yes -> Allow yourself and others to fail -> Repeat
4. Feeling uncomfortable is normal. It means you’re growing. Oh gosh, I could speak forever about this one. Feeling not funny, not original enough or too slow — was my normal emotional spectrum every Wednesday. But yet i felt free. It’s an act of self-liberation. You accept your fears and just tell yourself “I’m enough” despite all of these. Practice helps. The more you practice — the better you become (I’m not good yet, but I keep practicing). Even improv requires a lot of practice, it’s not totally random, it’s a special mindset of fast adaptivity to the situation.
5. All the boundaries we create ourselves. You can try on a role of anyone if you allow yourself to. And this is a hard one too. It’s not easy to separate yourself (including your blockers, habits and characteristics) from the characters you’re playing. And letting yourself pretend you are another person is especially hard when these are the people you don’t particularly like. But imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes also makes you more empathetic and compassionate. And it really helps to see the boundaries of our own self.
Funny enough, my first improv experience was really terrible. It was a show in New York that was so bad that I almost promised myself to never attend an improv show again. But then I saw an event in Zurich which I couldn’t attend but still wanted to see if the experience is different here and then noticed these guys have an improv course. And this triggered my curiosity. I thought in the end an improv story is as good/bad as you are as a storyteller. I gave it a try and I loved it. So even if your improv experience doesn’t go right, don’t give up, give it another try. In the end, it’s all in your head 🙂
P.S. The Maria’s clause. And one last thing — if you ever do an improv yourself, never wear high heels on stage. This will make Gerry very upset.