If you have the script to the universe, please God share it with the rest of us. If not, then you burst into this world like everyone else--with a wailing and gnashing of gums, and no clue what to do next. Hell, it took you months just to realize your mother didn't disappear when you close your eyes.
Life is still scary like that sometimes. You long for the reassuring smack of a doctor's palm to remind you you're still alive. And maybe that's a good thing. Knowing how to accept and play within your surroundings can transform obstacles into opportunities, mistakes into discoveries. That's where improv comes in.
Improv, in theatre, is the art of creating a live show as you perform it. No script. No pre-planned funny bits. No way to know exactly what the other people are going to do. It's a lot like real life.
As a new year is born, it's time to examine our lives and make some good ol' fashioned resolutions. The most important one you can make this year is, "improvise more."
I don't mean that like, "performing more improv shows." I mean it like, "let the principles of improv guide your everyday life." Because if you're comfortable improvising, it doesn't matter what 2013 throws at you.
I asked Jonathan Pitts, the Executive Director of Chicago Improv Productions, who produce the annual Chicago Improv Festival among other projects, how improv affects his view of the world:
"Improvising keeps you vital, as you never get too old to play unless you tell yourself you are. One of the essences and privileges of being alive is the right to play and be playful. Improvising will also help you access your intuition, communicate well, learn how to listen better, and gain some good friends along the way."
Chicago is the birthplace of improv as an art form. If you're interested in a deep dive, check out the training centers and shows by Second City or iO. Here's a quick primer to get you started on a year of living without a script.
Improv to live by: Yes, and...
The first lesson you learn in improv classes is, "Yes, and." The idea is simple: accept the world you are given and add one thing to it.
In improv this creates a believable world with no script. In life it does the exact same thing. When you "Yes, and" something you're not judging what just happened to see if it's the right thing. It's too late for that. You have to accept it and move forward, adding one thing of your own. The "Yes" part keeps you focused on the future, keeps your ego from getting in the way of your decisions. The "and" part forces you to be an active part of shaping what comes next.
But, what if there's a terrible idea at the office? Like the worst idea you've ever heard? Easy. "Yes, and" it.
First, listen carefully to the original idea. Ask yourself, "What's the most positive part of this idea"? Then add one thing to it. Repeat this enough times and it'll turn into a good idea, usually a better idea than any one individual had to begin with.
There's plenty of nuance to this concept, but if you think you've got an idea of how it works, give it a try and let me know how it goes.