Kelsey sighed and began tapping her foot, glancing at her imaginary watch. “How much longer is this line?” she whined.
I took her lead and impatiently crossed my arms—and my legs. “I have no idea,” I said. “All I know is, I reaaaaally have to pee.” The rest of the class laughed, and I felt encouraged. I had acted out a character, in a spur-of-the-moment situation, and made them laugh!
I never would have thought I would take part in an Improv Comedy class. I love watching comedy and live theater, and in college my roommates and I would go to Improv shows nearly every Friday night at a coffee-shop on campus. But getting up onstage myself? No, thanks! My stomach knotted up just thinking about it.
Then one day, my boyfriend asked if I would like to attend a beginner’s Improv class with him. I was scared, but it seemed like the kind of scared that begs to be challenged. Plus, with my boyfriend by my side, I feel like Superwoman. I could do anything! Even Improv! I told him it sounded like a fun date night idea and to sign me up.
As the date of the class approached, I grew more and more apprehensive. While I enjoy public speaking, I do not consider myself to be an actress. And while I love writing about characters outside myself, actually personifying other people and characters does not come easily to me. I also like a sense of control. I was especially intimidated by the "not-knowing" aspect of Improv. What if I can't think of any good ideas? What if I have a mind-freeze? What if I ruin the scene and let down my partner?
When we arrived at the studio where the class would be held, I made an intentional decision. You might call it a promise to myself. I consciously pushed these worries aside and focused my energies on having fun and soaking up a new adventure.
In the book Genership 1.0: Beyond Leadership Toward Liberating the Creative Soul (Arch Street Press), David Castro writes: “In normal usage the word playful signifies frolic and humor, and suggests a context of recreation. Genership, however, focuses on a particular definition of the verb to play: to move or function freely within prescribed limits. Within genership and CoVisioning, the word playful conveys commitment to free experimentation and movement, in the sense that someone might play with a control panel or software package to learn how it works and discover its full potential.”
This is Improv at its essence: moving and functioning freely within the prescribed limits of the scene. Only when you allow yourself to be free within the parameters of the situation you have been given, do the ideas begin to flow into your mind.
Castro continues: “To play and be playful in this sense means to explore and exploit a situation’s full potential. … Genership promotes enthusiastic playfulness, whereas the leadership paradigm tends to restrict it. … To play a game is to enter into it and explore everything that can happen within its environment as we move and manipulate its features. The opposite of a playful orientation is one that sees the world as given and something with which we should not interfere. When someone tells us, 'Don't play with that!' what he admonishes is Don’t touch it, don’t manipulate it, let it be only as you find it. A critical part of the creative orientation required for genership is to explore the environment together, testing the application of the will to all parts of it in a playful way—manipulating, risking and examining what happens when we attempt to make changes.”
In class, we learned that the first rule of Improv is never to say, “No.” Instead, when discovering a scene with your partner, you always say, “Yes, and…” This is what allows the scene to grow and expand and gain life, rather than stagnate and die on the vine. Yes, and. Exploring, manipulating, creating. Why is this group co-creation so important?
In Genership, Castro explains, “Playing together in groups expands our ability to explore the potential environment for change. One person playing alone can only apply his personal thinking and activities. A team of people creates the opportunity to apply a spectrum of ideas and abilities to the world, yielding infinitely greater potential for change.”
Improv class ended up being one of the best date nights my boyfriend and I have ever shared. I loved seeing him jump into a new endeavor, just as I could tell he was delighted each time I raised my hand to volunteer and bounded onstage. The wonderful instructor created an environment of energy and creativity in the class, and people were very supportive of each other.
To be sure, I was definitely a little nervous and uncomfortable the entire time… but, you know what? It was exhilarating to get up in front of people and act out a zany scene on the fly. It made me feel proud of myself. Indeed, I ripped off the label I had always put on myself as "someone who could never do Improv." Now that label is gone. In fact, my sweetie and I are already talking about going back to Improv class again soon!