Updated: Jun 21, 2020
What is improvisational Theater?
Improvisational Theater is an art form, usually a comedy, where actors perform live, without a script. They usually take a suggestion from the audience as a starting point, to help them get started and prove to the audience that they are making it all up on the spot.
Sounds terrifying. Why would anyone do that?
The art of improvisational theater requires us to act and react in the moment. Improv theater extends way beyond just doing silly things on a stage (although that's one of the great things about it).
Through these sets of specially developed games, we can train ourselves to live more in the moment, be better listeners, make better decisions, be more positive, work together, and find creative answers to problems we face. We also train to be bolder, and to face up to our fears and be more confident in our own imperfections. Sometimes we can really beat ourselves up about something we did - some word we got wrong or something we didn't notice, which lead us to be foolish. Improv isn't about being good - it's about celebrating our fallibility - our vulnerability. It's about fostering genuine connection with other humans - something that most of us are terrified of a lot of the time. It's about getting out of our heads, being spontaneous, and going with it!
But make-believe is for children, not for me!
Our attitude to play is often associated with guilt and shame. We grow up thinking there is 'play time' and there is 'work time', and play time is non-work, a time of break from learning. We believe play is for little children, it is childish. Scientists are beginning to show us that play is how we learn most authentically about the world we live in. We need to re-educate ourselves about how the human brain actually learns.
My first few times playing theater games, I felt anxious about what people thought of me, and I worried about doing something stupid, wrong, idiotic, saying the wrong words, or revealing something embarrassing about myself or others. I was sure I would be judged as not good enough. But the more times I did it, the less self-conscious I became, and the quicker I began to trust my own ideas and to think on my feet. My self-confidence has grown enormously in the short space of a year, and I fell more connected with the people around me.
Improvisation breaks down the preconceived concepts we harbor about ourselves. We have to adapt and adjust, and learn to let go of control. Improv has increased my mind’s ability to form ideas, and present them in a coherent, relevant manner. These skills can be applied to almost any profession.
What is Applied Improv?
Applied improv is taking concepts, ideas, and techniques from the world of improvisation and applying them to business, relationships, and life.
It’s experiential learning that inspires, educates, and entertains. In a competitive job market, the skills improvisation has to offer are more valuable than ever. Listening is a skill with definitive benefits to customer service, sales, and management, just for starters. Improvisation also improves your concentration skills, helping you to ‘tune in’ to aspects of communication that you might not have previously noticed.
Improvisers think on their feet and recognize opportunities as they arise.
Most importantly, improvisers learn how to be flexible in their thinking, constantly reframing the situation, adjusting to the conversation they truly find themselves in, not the one they want to be in. Whether you are an aspiring actor, a member of the workforce who wants to add to or improve his/her skill set, or someone who just needs a little more play in their life, classes in improvisation might be what you are looking for. Typical students include therapists, teachers, salespeople, people in the business community, trainers, and actors.
Unlike the classroom, where the learning environment is often tense and competitive, an improv setting builds enthusiasm among the participants. When you’re performing, it’s not competitive. The trust that the performers build with one another is rewarding in itself. Whilst math and English classes are important too, Improv helps you change on the inside. Without it, I would be a more scared and quiet person.
Article by Alice Turner
References and good reading/ listening material:
Here is a great podcast on Scientists who have been exploring the effects of improvisation on the brain: https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-05-23/your-brain-improv
How improvisation changes the brain:
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding flow: The psychology of engagement with everyday life. Basic Books.
Clayton D Drinko. Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition.