Yesterday I had my first improv class at DSI Comedy Theater in Carrboro. I decided to enroll in an improv class to help improve some of my presentation skills. It also might help a bit with the free association mindset used when brainstorming new ideas. Furthermore, I figured it couldn’t hurt to push myself outside of my comfort zone a bit.
My initial impression of the class is pretty positive. The instructor clearly knows his stuff and is very supportive and encouraging. Everyone in the class seems really nice too. I think we’re all there to have some fun and learn something new, which is good.
I did find the class a bit intimidating, however. I’m really not scared of making a fool of myself in public, so getting up on a stage and trying to free associate a bit isn’t that scary to me. What is intimidating to me is being social and meeting new people. I’m in the category of people you might call “slow to warm up”.
The class opened with a few warmups where we had to move in odd ways and make a unique sounds. For example, we stood in a circle and, one by one, made some sort of movement and made a noise. We all did it – and I can’t actually remember what I did – but I felt like perhaps I could have been more creative. I think I held back a bit because I wasn’t really terribly comfortable. This was true on all of our exercises.
If I’m honest with myself, I hold back in social situations a lot. I’m pretty paranoid about saying something outlandish or acting oddly and creeping people out. So, that leads to me stuffing my hands in my pockets and keeping quiet. Once I start to feel like I know the people I’m around, I’ll relax a bit, but that can take a while. The class is six weeks long, so I figure in about seven weeks I’ll be perfectly comfortable!
After the warmups we learned the basic tenet of improve, “Yes, and…” This is improve at its’ simplest. You just agree with whatever the person you’re working with says, no matter how outlandish, and then try to build on it.
So, here’s an imaginary improve situation I made up on the fly:
The scene: Two people are at a park sitting on a bench.
Person 1: Man, it is a seriously beautiful day today!
Person 2: It is a beautiful day today, yes! And, I’m sure glad they’ve cleaned up the toxic sludge in that river down there.
Person 1: You are glad that the’ve cleaned up the toxic sludge, yes! And, I’m surprised you didn’t land in jail for dumping it there!
…. the scene continues like this until the it ends ….
In this example, the participants always restate what the other person said, then say “yes”, and add then build on the previous thought. “Yes, And”.
Agreement and building onto a thought is the core essence of improv. While I found it awkward to do this on stage, in front of people, the core principal has direct applications in business and entrepreneurship. Rather than shooting down new ideas before they’re fully formed, we should all build on them. You never know what you might end up with, maybe the next great idea! Or, at least, perhaps something to laugh at.