Why improvisational theatre?

Many asked me why I chose to start doing improvisational theatre, ‘improv’ for short. The quick answer is that improv is a way to increase mental flexibility, making it easier to change plans and adapt to new situations on a daily basis. The long answer includes a heartbreaking story that begins with my graduation from University and ends with a philosophical rambling about freedom and fear, that you can read here.

'yes and' in theatre improv

The first thing I loved about improv is that all students are there for their own reasons. Some are training to become actors, some already are, some are just bored, curious, intrinsically funny, or have their own hidden agenda of self-improvement such as yours truly. One thing I was pleased to find out is that almost all of my course mates are really into Dungeons and Dragons!

This is a life hack: if you find yourself in a new city without friends, grab your D&D Player’s Handbook and go to the nearest improv show.

Instant friends guaranteed!

And who wouldn't want to be friends with someone who has a sense of humour, who takes time to do something active and completely abstract during their free time, who isn't afraid to laugh at themselves and to find a way to make things work? I am a hundred percent sure improv students would make the best flatmates.

Also, no one is expected to be as good as Amy Poehler and Tina Fey on their first day. You won’t even get on a stage until months in, if that’s what frightens you. It all starts with the basic rule of improv, which I am sure everyone has heard before maybe without knowing it: always say ‘yes and’ to your scene partner. ‘Yes’ because it shows you listened to their ideas and are ready to jump into a scene, ‘and’ because a scene is like a wall you build with them one brick at a time. Open your mind and contribute to a scene with your own ideas. Don’t ask them too many questions which feel like stealing information from them and expecting them to tell you what’s going on.

My favourite saying is that there is no right or wrong in improv, only easy or hard choices. (I think Tina Fey said it, but don’t quote me on that.)

A really empowering about improv is that, other than the fact that no one is technically wrong, if you have a thought in your head about the scene you’re in, you can say it out loud and make it real for everyone else too. For example, if you and your scene partner are on stage in what seems like the most normal situation, you could say something about it being very hot in Hell. Magically the whole scene is now set in Hell! This is called ‘tilting’ and it’s actually one of the funniest things to do on stage. 

To be honest, knowing the mechanics of ‘tilting’ actually ruined many good comedy videos for me. When the subject is not stated, or the location is not very clear, my mind goes to the funniest possible option, and I usually predict the punchline.

First World problems, huh?

Seriously though, ‘yes and’ is also the number one rule in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which is this communication, personal development, and psychotherapy mix. NLP claims there is a connection between how our brain functions in relation to language and what outcome can be achieved by putting specific behavior into action. I know, it sounds a bit confusing, but NLP sees ‘yes and’ as a way to find a common ground between you and your interlocutor, and to build an effective relationship between you two. As we all know, there is no perspective without two points of view.

So, maybe the question isn’t ‘why did you choose improv’, but ‘do you want to do improv?’

Image: via

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