One of our regular performers considers how improv can increase confidence and why you should give it a go!
- You learn to expect the unexpected
Improv is thrilling because something new happens every time. In Thespianage shows we incorporate suggestions made by audience members, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary. Although certain suggestions crop up frequently, there is always potential for surprises (such as a recent request for a Shakespearean interpretation of Jaws). This near infinite spectrum of suggestions is coupled with the wide variety of interpretations and performing styles from other Improvisers. You quickly learn not to hope too much for any specific suggestion, or that you will be perfectly set up for a killer line. There are too many different variables in every scene.
As you get more comfortable, you learn to trust that your fellow performers have the skills and dedication to take the scene in a unique, interesting direction. You also learn to trust that you are capable of this too. This can be really fun- but it can also be useful on a personal level. When you feel anxious about the unexpected, you might take fewer risks in order to avoid it. Improv is a useful way to simulate the unexpected, and reframe it positively. The unexpected no longer has to be scary, or intimidating- it can be funny, or interesting, or just downright weird! Yes, it can still be nerve racking at times. But pushing past the fear is worth it. I like to think of Improv as akin to an extreme sport in this respect (admittedly an extreme sport for people who find the Dragon Coaster at Legoland intimidating).
- You become more comfortable with failure
But why do people worry about the unexpected? Often it boils down to fears around failure. But Improv can be helpful here. A phrase that comes up a lot in Improv is “fail gloriously.” It reminds us that it’s ok to get things wrong, and gives us the permission to approach failure with joy and good humour. I have worked with some amazing performers over the years. But we have all failed as improvisers countless times. We have all had jokes that didn’t quite land. We have all got so caught up in building a scene that we forgot the audience suggestion. And we have all sung songs that include words that have no known rhymes in the English language. We create scenes on the spot with no time to plan or confer. We fail a lot. But failure can be funny. And in this way, we learn to be gentler with ourselves.
- You meet some great people
Improv is almost always a group activity. You need to work closely with others to create scenes. Fortunately, the Improv community is overwhelmingly made up of very supportive individuals. If someone is inexperienced or struggling, performers will typically help them out by taking a greater share of responsibility for developing the scene, or responding positively to their ideas. The support from established Improvisers allows people who lack confidence as performers (or more generally) to gently build up their participation. From observing, to taking part in warm ups or improv jams, all the way to performing in a show, most Improvisers are fantastic at providing gentle encouragement, without creating pressure to progress before you feel ready.
So, if you want to get involved with Improv, why not see if there is a group or jam near you? The UK Improv Network on Facebook is a great place to start, with local groups posting there regularly. Or if you’re not sure about getting stuck in just yet, why not go watch a show to see what it’s all about?