Meet Sasha Korotkov, student in the level 5 class (The Harold) and performer on the Veracity team, who loves improv’s stage camaraderie and support.Read More
Improv Cincinnati is excited to announce a new improv opportunity for students who have completed the Core Curriculum (Levels 1 through 5). These teams will give students ongoing opportunities to perform for audiences, receive coaching, and to develop an ensemble. It is our hope these teams will continue to cultivate a thriving and inclusive improv community, and to expand students’ breadth and depth of improv experience.
When and Where are Auditions? Tuesday, March 13th 7-9pm at Dramakinetics
Who can attend? Any student who has graduated Level 5, or those who have been specially asked.
How much does it cost? $80 for 11 weeks. 75% of the cost goes directly to training Coach. The remaining 25% covers space expense.
What is the commitment? Rehearsals are every Sunday, either 1-3pm with Tatiana Godfrey or 3:30-5:30pm with Jen Burns (both of which will be at Clifton Performance Theatre.
Students must be able to attend 80% of scheduled rehearsals and shows. Failing to due so will result in removal from the team.
When are performances? Performances will be select Saturdays at 10pm following the weekly 8pm Improv Cincinnati show. The cost will be free for audience members who stay after the 8pm show or $5 for anyone who attends exclusively for the late show.
What happens after 11 weeks? IC Leadership will make a decision based on factors such as ensemble/student preference, coach feedback, performance quality, student attendance/commitment, etc. Possible outcomes include but are not limited to:
1. The student team stays together for another session and is assigned a different coach.
2. The student team disbands, and the existing students are reshuffled into different teams.
3. Individual students are selected to be placed on an IC house team or project.
We’re incredibly excited about these new teams, and we can’t wait to see our students continue to grow as improvisers. Please email any questions to email@example.com
All the best,
Colin and Jon
Improv Cincinnati is passionate about creating a community that is inclusive and welcoming of all students. As such, we are thrilled to announce the creation of a new scholarship program for minorities to create new opportunities for individuals who are often underrepresented in improv.
The scholarship is for people of color, LGBT+ community members, veterans, immigrants, and differently-abled individuals.
Each session, two scholarships will be awarded to cover all class fees. Applicants may apply for any level, assuming they meet the required prerequisites. Students may reapply as many times as they like. The scholarship is open to any of the diverse groups mentioned above, but priority will be given to those students with the greatest financial need. Students not picked for the scholarship may be offered reduced tuition.
Thanks to everyone who applies! We’re so grateful for the Improv Cincinnati community, and we know we’ll grow stronger, more supported, and more connected through even greater diversity.
Improv Cincinnati is producing a scripted Christmas-themed parody of Stranger Things. The performances will be on December 8th and 15th. We are searching for talented actors who resemble the featured kid characters: Eleven, Dustin, Will, Mike, Lucas, and Max. All other roles have been cast. Auditionees can be young teens or young-looking adults. IC recommends watching both seasons before auditioning, but it's not required.
When: Sunday Nov. 12th; 1-3pm
Where: Liberty Exhibition Hall (3938 Spring Grove Ave.)
Please fill out the audition registration below. Send any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Improv Cincinnati students Erica Riddick and John Cadman traded experiences from their daily lives. She offered him preview tickets to the haunted house where she has been moonlighting, and he offered her a tour of GE, where he is an engineer, for her birthday.Read More
Delmar Davis is an Improv Cincinnati mentor, student, performer, and accompanist. He's also a Zen Buddhist teacher, former HR executive, acclaimed jazz guitarist, and much more. Delmar has contributed more to IC's development than we can ever hope to repay. When he wrote a blog post about his experience with improv for his own company, Easing in Fitness, we figured the least we could do was to re-post it. Here it is:
Improv(e) Your Health - by Delmar Davis, Easing in Fitness
Here is a belief I continue to see both culturally and in the minds of clients, no matter how much proselytizing I do about the Easing In Fitness principles: to get healthy and well requires work and hardship. It’s the old “no pain, no gain” thing. But I’ve found more evidence for how this truism need not be true.
Last year when I started sharing the Easing In Fitness approach with the wide world beyond one-to-one client contact, I realized public speaking and video were going to be important media. And although I had years of experience making presentations, facilitating meetings, and delivering training, my performance on camera was flat. Okay, it was worse than flat, as in total-body-cringe bad.
I sought help from a coach who proclaimed, “Delmar, get thee to an improv comedy class!” My coach said that if I could be comfortable in front of people in that medium, pretty much everything else would be cake.
So with some trepidation I did. A little over a year ago I signed on for a Level 1 class at Improv Cincinnati. I thought it would be work and would involve discomfort, but I did it anyway to serve my goals. No pain, no gain, right?
And I was bitten by the improv bug. While this post is not a blog-fo-mercial for practicing improv in general or at Improv Cincinnati in particular, I will say that discovering the culture of positivity and the sense of community created by founders Jon Ulrich and Colin Thornton has been a true joy. I planned on enduring a couple classes for my professional growth, but ended up somehow doubling up on my training, taking a role as musical accompanist, and joining a performance team. And I’ve made great friends among the creative, talented, beautiful weirdniks who find fun in doing adult make-believe.
Like I said, I got bit.
And it became yet another reference point for how pain is not necessary for gain.
Just to be clear, we develop strength and resources in response to challenge. Muscles and bones only strengthen in response to being taxed beyond their current capacity. Hearts and lungs only get more efficient in response to being asked to approach their limits. Bodies only learn to move with more fluidity and flexibility by engaging in clumsy and awkward new movements.
And we only get more comfortable performing in front of people by getting up in front of people and doing ridiculous things. Which, by the way, I did. Studying improv has vastly improved my performance and comfort in front of a camera. Check.
Here’s the icing on the cake, however, that improv reinforced for me: the challenge itself can be fun. We can create a safe and fun environment such that when we are operating outside of our capabilities and are taxing our resources such that they will grow, we are still having a blast. The challenge itself can be fun and feel good, and we still get to keep and enjoy all the resulting benefits.
Oh yeah, and one other thing: laughter is good for your health. Really good. Do it as often as possible.
Scene! (That’s improv-speak for “The End.”)
Easing In Fitness Principle #1: Fun, feel-good fitness. You can love the results of exercise AND the challenge itself.
Together, let’s end the fight to get fit!
Delmar is a life coach who specializes in helping people remove obstacles to getting started and sticking with their fitness or wellness plan. Find out more at easingin.com.
Sometimes the most meaningful moments in an improv class come in the first ten minutes when students have time to share and be vulnerable. Performing on stage with strangers requires trust, and trust is rarely earned without vulnerability. We spend so much time playing status games with neighbors and putting up walls to coworkers that allowing ourselves to be exposed can be extremely difficult. But sometimes the simple things that seem challenging, like sharing to a group, can also be deeply rewarding.
One day, I asked my students to talk about an object from their childhood that had symbolic meaning to them. Each individual object the students recollected revealed a deeper truth about them. There have been so many great examples that have been shared, but my favorite (told here with permission) was from Thom.
Thom's symbolic object was a puppet of the Popeye character Wimpy. He found it when his family went on a trip to New York City in the early 60s. It was lying in the gutter and Thom picked it up, saved it from oblivion. It quickly became his favorite toy. He took it everywhere. He talked to it. His parents were worried because he loved it so much. One day Thom took the puppet to school and kept it on his hand. His teacher was not pleased and sent him down the long hall to the dreaded principal's office. The no-nonsense principal yanked the puppet off his hand, threw it in the trash, and informed Thom that he was too old to play with toys. And that was the last poor Thom saw of his Wimpy puppet. You can imagine how upsetting it must have been.
Thom's story reminded me of a time when I was in 5th grade playing at recess. I was splashing in puddles and playing when the teacher called everyone to go inside. I was having so much fun playing that I didn't notice everyone in line. When I finally straggled over, the kids in line all started saying, "We see you Colin." I realized that my teacher had instructed them to make that comment to shame me for seeking attention, which wasn't even true. It was a moment that stayed with me way longer than it should have. It was my puppet in the trashcan.
When I arrived home, I felt compelled to see whether I could find a wimpy puppet on Ebay. There couldn't be too many Wimpy puppets form the 50s and 60s. Sure enough, I found one that I was certain was the same puppet as Thom's. And it wasn't too expensive. So, I bought it for him and gave it to him on the final class. To me, it was more than a little puppet: it was the reason I helped create Improv Cincinnati. I was giving Thom permission to play.
A final comment. Thom told me that he took the puppet to work to share the story with his colleagues. He said that one coworker grabbed the puppet off his hand and threw it in the trashcan. Hearing that really made me upset. You're never too old for someone to tell you you're too old to play. If you ever have someone like that in your life, just do what Thom did and pick that puppet out of the trashcan. Give yourself permission to play.
Congratulations! An improv theatre has asked you to be the featured monologist for their "Armando" show. You must be quite the raconteur! But what the heck is an "Armando" anyway?
What is an "Armando"? An Armando is a a type of improv performance where a a monologist tells true stories that inspire a series of improvised scenes by an improv team. Often, the monologist will tell more than one story during the performance, interspersing them every 10-15 minutes or so between scenes. The monologist is welcome to tell additional stories based off the original audience suggestion, or off the improvised scenes he just observed.
While this format was originally named after Armando Diaz, co-owner of the Magnet Theatre in New York City, it's become popular at improv theaters all over the world.
Does the monologist prepare? Traditionally, the Armando monologist will not prepare, except perhaps to practice telling stories off the top of her head inspired by a word. The monologist typically asks the audience for a suggestion and will speak extemporaneously on the topic. However, some Armando performances, like the Improv Cincinnati show Veracity, allow the monologists to choose whether they would prefer to pre-select stories on a theme or whether to speak extemporaneously. It's up to you!
What if I choose not to pre-plan my stories? Terrific! We love the surprise and spontaneity of this approach. Consider: this is the same type of thing people do at cocktail parties all the time. It doesn't matter what someone is talking about, usually the line of conversation can inspire a story of some kind. For instance, if an audience suggestion is "Licorice", a monologist may say "Licorice reminds me of candy, which reminds me of going to my Grandmother's house..." The connection between the suggestion and the story can be indirect.
So, are these comedians going to make fun of my story? Please know that it is not the intent of the improvisers to mock or embarrass the monologist. Rather, their goal is to celebrate the funny elements of the story, teasing out the fun details to inspire their scenes. If they do it correctly, the monologist will be laughing along with them.
Are they reenacting my story? A good Armando should not be doing reenactments. They aren't trying to replay what happened to you. Instead, they are looking for the unusual, absurd, or interesting things about your story and finding what is funny about it. They might even take a small detail and use it as fuel for something entirely unrelated.
Do You have any advice? Certainly! Here are some tips mentioned by improv masters from around the world specifically for a brand new Armando monologist:
Don't worry about being funny - Dan Grimm from Bexar Stage in San Antonio says that you shouldn't worry about being a comedian. We just want you to be yourself. Your job is to tell stories, let the improvisers handle the comedy.
Keep it short - Jay Sukow from Second City Hollywood recommends to keep the monologue short. You probably don't want to go longer than 3-5 minutes.
Details are key - Michael Short from The Improv Refinery says to load up on the details. Don't be afraid to drift away from the suggestion, which is meant to inspire you, not trap you.
Tell stories you love to tell - Stacey Smith, Comedy School Manager at Improv Boston, encourages you to think of stories that easily leap to mind because you've told them a hundred times. Your favorite stories that are on the tip of your tongue are always the most fun to tell.
Watch some examples of good Armandos - Jill Bernard from Huge Theatre in Minneapolis recommends checking out some Armandos on youtube. UCB often has celebrities as their monologist for their Armando called AsssssCat.
Learn from the Master - UCB Founder and Improv Master, Matt Besser, has a great set of other suggestions here.
Thanks again for being the hero of the evening. And remember, the funny doesn't come from your monologue - it comes from the improvisers. So relax, let your stories flow, and prepare for a night filled with laughter and joy!
This is it. The very final post in our “Why is improv so scary?” blog series. My typing fingers are heavy with ennui, but I’ll try to stay strong.
In case you’ve forgotten, here are the improv-related fears we’ve examined so far in this series:
I won’t say that we dispelled these fears, because they are all totally legitimate fears to have. We did, however, take a look at why these fears live inside us. We also gave ourselves permission to confront these fears and tell them to get lost.
This week, we’ll discuss our last – and maybe most important – fear: “I don’t really know what improv is.”
Improv is often characterized by its driving principle: “Yes, and.” This phrase refers to a guideline that is helpful during improvised scenes: First, agree with whatever your scene partner said. Then, add your own idea. But even people familiar with “yes, and” might still feel unsure about what improv actually entails.
If you walk into an improv class tomorrow, there will be about eight to twelve students in the room. You'll be there for about two hours, and during that time you'll do a range of activities. At the beginning, you might stand in a circle and play some games to help everyone connect with each other and shift their focus to the group. Then, you might play some games that involve creating scenes with two or more people (this is the same as playing pretend). At the end, you might take a few minutes to talk about how your week went, what you appreciate about your fellow students and what you took away from the class that day.
Okay. Fine. You caught me. I was distracting you with a description of an improv class because I cannot tell you what improv actually is because I DON'T KNOW. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW.
Improv is a strange beast with eighteen eyes and big old wings and lion’s feet and the head of an alpaca. Like all artistic genres, there’s no catch-all definition. If you asked nine painters to define visual art, you’d get nine different answers. Likewise, if you asked nine directors to define theatre, no two answers would be exactly the same.
So I went to some of my favorite improvisers and asked them for their personal definitions of improv. Here are the answers I got:
· “Theatre created in the moment, which – like all theatre – has the power to inform, entertain, and touch people when performed from a place of authenticity and heart."
· "Improv is playing pretend for an audience. An improv class should provide the skills so that an audience will be entertained by your pretending. Those skills for an entertaining style of pretend also happen to be life skills that bring joy, confidence, and teamwork."
· "Improv is the spontaneous but sculpted result of mining the conspicuous human condition for all its buried whimsy."
· "Improv is convincingly playing pretend in front of an audience."
· "Improv is about people having each other’s backs and accepting that we’re all in this shit together, so let’s have fun and try to create something interesting."
· "Improv is trusting your friends to help you build a world, a scene, a moment – and then trusting them to live in it with you."
· "Improv is living in everyone’s head at once."
· "Improv is free-fall brain candy stepped in live action communion in the here and now."
· "Improv is the love child of life lessons and boundless fun."
Behold: Nine different answers to the same question. (Okay, Jon and Colin had the same answer. But they run Improv Cincinnati together so if they’d never colluded about this it would be problematic.)
Behold again: Not only do all these improvisers know each other, they’re in the same troupe. They do improv together and they can’t even agree on what improv is. And that’s okay, because they have the same goal: To entertain and edify their audience without planning one single thing beforehand. (That sounds asinine when I type it out. But it isn’t. If you don’t believe me, go watch their full-length improvised musical on Saturday nights.) The purpose of an improv class or rehearsal is to help a team of people incrementally build up an arsenal of "improv tools" - things like agreement, vulnerability, onstage relationships, risk-taking, curiosity and game-playing - that will help them play pretend in a way that's fun, truthful and engaging. That's why there's no need to be funny or quick-witted in order to enjoy improv. It's all about building your toolbox.
Behold one more time: There is a tiny little presence inside all of us that loves challenges and adventures. This little presence wears a safari cap and carries a map and points confidently into the distance with steely eyes. If the idea of trying improv appeals to your inner adventurer, take a workshop. Sign up for a class. It’s okay if you don’t know what improv is.
Nobody really does.
Check out these books if you’d like to dive deeper into improv and its various definitions: Truth in Comedy by Charna Halpern and Del Close, Improvise by Mick Napier, Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin, Improv Wisdom by Patricia Madsen, and Impro by Keith Johnstone. If you really want to get down and dirty, go to ImprovCincinnati.com and check out some videos from real classes and workshops to see what you can expect.
***BONUS TRACK*** ***RAP SONG AIRHORN SOUNDS***
We at Improv Cincinnati decided to create this blog series because trying improv for the first time is f*cking scary. Instead of trying to convince people that it isn’t (because it is), we decided to shine a spotlight on the fears that we and others experienced when we first started learning about improv. In order to really wrap our minds around what’s scary, we started asking everyone we know what scares them about improv. The six fears we examined in this series are the six statements we heard most often.
But fear isn’t what improv is about. To close out our series, I want to provide you with a different list. This time, I asked everyone I know this question: What is the biggest gift improv has given you? Here’s what they said.
Insight ♦ Confidence ♦ The realization that “Yes, and” isn’t just an improv skill, but a life philosophy ♦ The ability to listen intently ♦ Choosing positive responses ♦ I met my girlfriend in an improv class three years ago ♦ Freedom to be myself ♦ Developed my imagination ♦ Best friends ♦ Trust ♦ General social confidence and public speaking that has transformed me over the last 11 months ♦ Confidence, friendships, mindfulness ♦ All of the beautiful weirdos ♦ Acceptance ♦ People that have my back both on and off the stage ♦ Laughter ♦ It is the one place I can truly turn my brain off and be present in the moment ♦ Listening and celebrating other people’s ideas ♦ A family ♦ The idea that it is my job to make others look good and to rely on other to do the same ♦ Fearlessness ♦ Letting me be weird ♦ Bombing and surviving ♦ It focused all of my energy in a really natural and positive way ♦ Confidence to work as a teacher ♦ Courage, the joy of play, people who support, appreciate and embrace me exactly as I am, and who inspire me to do the same for others and myself ♦ Friends who do improv ♦ Freedom to accept without judgment, freedom to use every available tool and any given moment, freedom from expectation. It’s jazz for actors. Just jamming. All freedom ♦ An increased ability to accept the given circumstances rather than worry about what could have been ♦ Confidence, helped me become less self-conscious, quick problem-solving ♦ Freedom ♦ Taught me to be patient and not to misdirect a situation in an attempt to be funny – just wait and the funny will come ♦ Yes, and ♦ It helped me deal with anxiety and enjoy life rather than put a pause on it, then it gave me the ability to meet so many great people ♦ That it’s not about being comfortable, it’s about being okay being uncomfortable ♦ Confidence, a push toward graduate school, and a research agenda ♦ The best kind of success comes from failure ♦ The ability to laugh at myself ♦ The ability to not overthink and to let fear go when performing ♦ A village for this idiot ♦ Learning to focus on my scene partner and not on myself ♦ My job! It’s an interview skill ♦ Laughter.
Carry on in your commitment to truthfulness and joy, ye improvisers. There is no pursuit more noble. ‘Til next time.
- Improv Cincinnati
I always end up laughing when I’m with ________.
I love talking about ________.
I’m different from many people in that _________.
One unique thing I bring to a team is _________.
I enjoy spending time with people who are ________.
When choosing friends, I value ________.
Thanks. Now hold onto your answers. We’ll come back to them in a minute.
This week, we’re continuing our discussion of improv-related fears and looking at the next belief that keeps us from saying yes: “I’m not outgoing.”
First off, let’s define an outgoing person so we know what we’re dealing with. Here’s my best attempt: An outgoing person is someone who speaks up frequently, who enjoys socializing and who doesn’t mind being the center of attention.
In an improv setting, maybe an outgoing person is starting a lot of scenes, entering a lot of scenes and offering a lot of ideas within scenes.
That’s awesome. There’s room for about one person like that on an improv team.
Improv is a team sport. Like other team sports, it requires a special sort of chemistry that allows its members to function as a unit and, in our case, tell stories and plays games without devolving into chaos.
Outgoing people have a place in an improv team. But so do people who are thinkers, observers and listeners. Imagine a football team where every player is Brett Favre. Imagine a band where every member is Kanye West. (On second thought, I’d actually want to see both of those. But you get my drift.)
It should come as no surprise that diversity in personality, experience and perspective will create a better improv team. (Same goes for gender and ethnic diversity.) To enjoy improv, there’s no need to overcome shyness or sensitivity. There is room for your shyness in improv. In fact, there’s a fantastic spot for it right next to that guy doing his loud Gollum/Smeagol impression for the fifth time this hour.
Improv does not require any special type of personality. Improv works best when you lean into the personality you already have.
Now let’s go back your fill-in-the-blanks. I hope your answers show you that even if you don’t fit your own definition of “outgoing,” you still have people you love goofing around with and subjects you can’t shut up about. You have qualities that are unique to you, and they strengthen the teams you join.
Take a look at your last two answers. Did you mention honesty, positivity, open-mindedness, courage, supportiveness or sincerity? If so, improv will help you find people who are trying to foster those qualities in themselves, because all those qualities become our focus when we improvise. (We’re all works in progress. Isn’t that great?)
Okay, one last fill-in-the-blanks. But this time, a madlib.
1. celebrity who is sexy and wonderful: ____________
2. noun that can breathe: ____________
3. body part that matters: ____________
4. adjective you’d use to describe traffic: ____________
5. type of biome: ____________
6. intangible noun: ____________
7. verb: ____________
8. invertebrate: ____________
9. adjective you’d use to describe your drunk mom: ____________
10. adverb: ____________
11. song that my teenage neighbor likes: ____________
I went to my first improv class last night. Me and this guy who kind of reminded me of [celebrity] did a scene about a [noun] with crippling self-doubt because he has a weird [body part]. He goes on a [adjective] journey through the [type of biome] to recover his sense of [intangible noun]. He [verb]s for days before he meets a magical [invertebrate] who tells him that in order to be happy, he must stand up in front of a [adjective] crowd and sing [adverb], just like that one scene from Elf. He goes and finds a crowd and sings [song title], and he is cured of his self-doubt forever.
~ ~ ~
See? You’re gonna be just fine, you handsome and creative devil.
I’ve been staring at a blank Word document for 45 minutes because I have nothing of substance to say.
^^Excellent start to a blog post.
But truly, this week’s subject is a hard one for me. We’re taking a look at our next improv-related fear – “I’ll look ridiculous” – which is the toughest fear to talk about, because there’s absolutely nothing that anyone can say that would talk you out of your fear of looking ridiculous.
Yep. I could end this one right here, but I won’t because I have a lot of videos I want you to watch (see below).
Some people are born without the fear of looking ridiculous. Maybe you’re so good looking that you can drag your butt across the carpet like a dog and people will still think you’re charming (like John Hamm’s 30 Rock character). Maybe you’re blessed with a robust self-image or some selective blindness when it comes to your own flaws. If you’re one of these people, congratulations, now go forth and do some improv with grace and ease.
With that lucky lot out of the way, that leaves the rest of us who were born with a healthy fear of looking stupid and must either shake that fear or live as its slave for the rest of eternity.
This fear isn’t like the fear of being unfunny or the fear of freezing up. Those we can acknowledge and live with. We can’t live with the fear of looking ridiculous because it doesn’t just make us afraid of improv – it makes us afraid of being alive.
As somebody who is afraid of a lot of stuff (ovens, knives, men with beards, semi trucks, spiders, being unlovable, etc.), I know how unhelpful it is to tell someone to “get over” a fear. So I won’t say that. But I will provide you with an exhaustive list of all the reasons we should both let go of our fear of looking ridiculous, as well as a few clips of people looking ridiculous in the best of ways.
The One and Only Authoritative List of Reasons to Look Ridiculous
(Known henceforth as TOAOALORTLR)
1. Someday you will die. Your hours on this planet are numbered. This is a fact and not me being morbid. Spend your hours learning things and helping people and falling in love. Don’t spend them trying to guess what you look like in other people’s eyes.
2. There will be people who admire you for never looking stupid. They will be profoundly boring people.
3. Every single person who has set a huge goal and accomplished it has been accused of ridiculousness at some point along the way. See: Copernicus, Mamie Phipps Clark, Kathrine Switzer, and many others.
4. You know that moment when you’ve had four glasses of Chardonnay and your inner monologue sounds something like, “I’m going to shake my ass to this beloved Hall and Oates song because I’m happy and free and I don’t care what anybody thinks”? You can actually do that without the Chardonnay and save about $36.
5. When you were around 12 years old, you had a sudden, terrible realization that there is a difference between someone laughing with you and someone laughing at you. That is totally true. You will try something, and certain people will laugh at you. They’ll be there laughing at you when you’re 12 and when you’re 40 and when you’re 86. And then they’ll die and you’ll die. But you will have spent your time on earth trying, instead of laughing at those whose try.
6. There is no actual fallout from looking ridiculous. You will not be taken to jail or tarred and feathered. Take advantage of this free-for-all while it lasts.
7. No matter how much you fret and how hard you try, you will never avoid looking ridiculous. We live in a ridiculous world governed by ridiculous rules and codes. We talk about the weather as if it interests us. We post photos of our own faces on the Internet and hope that lots of people we know click a “like” button. The Bachelorette is an actual show. And I watch it religiously.
You are ridiculous. I am ridiculous. Resistance is futile. Have some fun.
In conclusion, here are some videos of excellent people looking ridiculous. Please send me any I’ve missed.
Don’t think about your grandpa in the bathtub.
You thought about it, right?
Our powers of association are so strong that once we trip that wire, there’s no going back. (And sorry about your wrinkly, wet, naked grandpa. We can stop thinking about it now.)
Now name me five fake islands in the Pacific Ocean. Right now. Say them out loud.
Okay, why was that one so hard? It was essentially the same exercise as the one about your pruny, sudsy, bare-skinned grandpa. I even said the islands should be fake. You could have said literally anything.
I’ll give you my hypothesis: It’s not because your brain doesn’t work fast enough. It’s because you wanted to say things that sound like they could be island names.
This week, we’re talking about the second most common fear we heard when we asked people why improv is so scary: “I can’t think fast enough.” However, as we’re already starting to see, our fear of being slow might be masking our fear of being wrong. (Kind of like that fear of feeling unfunny could be better described as a fear of feeling shut off or disconnected. A PATTERN EMERGES.)
From the first day we march into kindergarten with our stupid bangs and our brand new red Tommy Hilfiger dress, we learn that there are right answers and wrong answers. We spend about 12 to 16 years of our lives thinking about whether our answers are right or wrong. Which makes sense. Because I don’t want my doctor or my mechanic or my lawyer or my accountant just doing “what feels right.”
But then we can’t turn it off. We’re trapped in a brain that obsessively sorts things into right and wrong.
This concern about wrongness isn’t limited to school, either. When we embarrass ourselves in a social situation, we say that we “said the wrong thing.” When we turn off our right-and-wrong filter and speak off the cuff, we are penalized with raised eyebrows or uncomfortable silences.
I called my friend Emily Riggin from the small town in Ohio where I grew up to talk about “quick thinking” and why it dissuades people from trying improv. Emily is a professional performer living in Los Angeles. She’s never done improv, but she likes watching it. Here’s a snippet of our conversation:
TH: Describe what is going through your head when you’re struggling to think quickly
ER: It’s trying to figure out what sounds best in a really small amount of time. Does that sound good? Is that going to make sense? Instead of just saying the first thing that comes. I think the control freak in me is trying to make sure everything is concise and works in all situations.
TH: What is the difference between quick thinkers and slow thinkers?
ER: It’s weighing every possible option. For some people, that can be done really quickly. I’m doing that as I talk to you, actually.
TH: Do you notice yourself “thinking slowly” in scenarios other than improv?
ER: If I’m having a serious conversation, I feel like my words aren’t conveying what I want to say. I’m not an in-the-moment type of person. It’s odd. It’s something I’ve noticed these past few years, growing up and being an adult. You have to have serious conversations, and conversations in a professional environment. I have all these good thoughts in my head about what I want to say to someone, and then when they’re in front of me it’s hard to be concise and to repeat those things I was thinking.
TH: Why is it important to be a quick thinker in improv?
ER: It’s supposed to be kind of like a real-life situation. You don’t have time to stop and think about, “What am I going to do next?” And then, on top of that, you have to be funny. If somebody pulls a fast one on you and changes the way your mind thought the situation was going, you have to stop and completely change your thinking. You have to be aware of everything’s that’s going on, and then also put funny stuff on top of it.
TH: What are you usually trying to think of when you catch yourself feeling slow?
ER: That happens if I'm in front of people. But to bring it back to improv, if I had to go onstage with a scenario that got thrown at me three minutes before I went onstage, I would be thinking so hard, I wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the person onstage with me. I’d say something really dumb. That’s what scares me the most about trying improv. You’re just a blank slate.
Emily nailed it when she described improv as a “blank slate.” It’s scary when your ability to pre-plan conversations and scenarios is pulled out from under you.
I also liked how Emily, very honestly, expressed her concern about “what sounds best” and “does that sound good.” It illustrates our awareness that other people are listening, and we don’t want to say the wrong thing.
There’s no easy fix for the fear of saying the wrong thing because it’s part of who we are. It keeps us comfortable and safe in many situations, and it holds us back in many others. Improv serves the very specific function of giving us a space where we can turn off our editors without fear of blank stares or shifting feet. We don’t become more right. But the stakes of being wrong go down. Over time, in that space, with those people, we can start to just say stuff. Our brains have changed. Not to become faster, but to become more confident, more trusting – of ourselves and of others. And eventually, that ability seeps into other areas of our lives.
One of my coworkers uses a saying I love: “There’s no right and wrong in theater. Only boring and interesting.” I think the same goes for improv. It is fun and freeing to think about what interests us, instead of what sounds right to others.
Join us next week to look at another fear, “I’ll look ridiculous,” and to see if Tatum has gotten any better at smiling since her first day of kindergarten.
Thinking about taking an improv class, but don't want to do it alone?
Improv Fundamentals students are now eligible to take advantage of a Buy One Get One Half Off offer (BOGO 1/2). Now is your chance to sign up with a friend, family member, co-worker, or anyone who would make a good improv wing man (or woman).
The normal price for one student is $250, so the total BOGO 1/2 off for two students is $375 ($250+$125). Improv Fundamentals classes are 8 weeks. Learn more here.
Offer applies only to Improv Fundamentals.
Improv is fun, but it's even more fun with a friend!