I am looking at a man staring lovingly at his empty hand, slowly petting an imaginary injured pigeon. Ten minutes later, I watch two girls trying to fly a space shuttle in space. One throws up from motion sickness and the other chases the vomit flying to prevent it disappearing into space. I haven’t laughed this hard in weeks.
No, this is not me going crazy - it’s improvisational theater. And I believe it is the best and easiest way to fight perfectionism.
How I Got Started
Three years ago, when I realized that my life was all work, no play - a friend recommended improvisational theater because "it allows you to be a kid again". I signed up for a beginner’s course right away! I was excited but really scared; imagining scenarios of being put on stage in front of people I’d never met having to entertain them.
That did not happen. Instead a random group of strangers came together to create a place of trust, experimentation and lots of fun.
No talking about what we did for a living, where we lived, or anything that would make us have preconceived ideas about each other.
After three months together, I couldn’t have cared less. I cared for them because we’d experienced so much honesty and fun together. The laughter, the learnings, the silly scenarios, the connections - those Wednesday nights became my favorite time of the week.
And with our informal graduation came the realizations of how I'd changed as a person.
My 5 Most Important Lessons From Improvising
1. Play. I don’t know how many times we said to each other, ”Oh my, what if people from the outside could see us now”. We laughed about it but it also made me sad. As adults, we tend to take life too seriously. There is so little room for having fun and playing. Improvisational theater is like an adult playground - you're allowed to get on the swings :)
2. Learn to listen. Truly listening is hard. Most people spend their time listening trying to think of what they’re going to say when it’s their time to talk. Since improv is about reacting to what just happened a few seconds ago, there is no way you can plan a scenario or try to be smart. Whatever you thought would happen, will definitely NOT happen. If you don’t listen and react to 100% of what the other is saying, instead following your ideas of how it should be, you will kill the comedy in a second.
3. One + One = Five. One rule of improv is saying ”Yes! And…” meaning that you accept what your friend says (”This plane is freezing”), and you contribute to the story to push the story forward (”Yeah, we should put on our parachutes”). You learn to collaborate and trust that others bring good stuff to the story. The scenes that come out of improvisational theater will be more interesting and fun than anything you could have created by yourself.
4. No judgment allowed. When you have to improvise this much, you will find yourself thinking: ”I should have said something better” (at least I did), but over the weeks that reaction started melting away. There is no straight line or ”should be’s” in the game of improv. We are all guilty of judging, ourselves and each other. And people with perfectionist streaks tend to be just a little more judgmental, especially toward themselves. This is amazing practice in letting go of how ”things should be or look”.
5. Applaud failure. You make bold, sometimes weird, statements. You might point to a chair and claim ”That Mercedes is purple” instead of asking ”What is that thing?” Your making suggestions and being heard is essential to improv being funny. If you mess up, that’s usually the funniest part. No better way to encourage and applaud failure.
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