Improv is a form of theater where nothing is rehearsed, no lines have been memorized and anything can happen. It is not only a type of theater but is also a way to learn many important life skills. The philosophy is very supportive, positive, exploratory and therapeutic. The people you work with don’t judge or criticize you but encourage you to share without hesitation. Taking risks in improv is how you thrive. Follow the fear, they say. You confront your fear courageously and bravely learn to be open and vulnerable while asking for what you need. You learn to trust your intuition and be open to possibility like an internal martial artist.
Through improv you learn to listen to your partners and have a group mind. You mirror them, respond to them, receive from them, you agree and say yes to them. If someone gives you an idea you take it, add to it and give it back to them. You learn to give gifts and be selfless. You let go of your ego and make sure your partner and the scene look good. You listen to the rhythm and timing of your partners and scene and try to stay connected. You keep the flow.
Improv teaches you to work as a team and to make sure that you express your emotions forwardly so your partners can read you. You constantly have your team in mind and are aware how everything that you do affects them. It teaches you to be aware of your body language and the body language of others. Reading and understanding others’ emotions and reciprocating them may help increase one’s ability to empathize with others. You pay attention to needs, desires, intentions, objectives and games in your relationships with others. If there is a conflict in the scene, you and your partners read each others’ bodies and commit to stating ideas as they pop up to resolve the conflict. The possibilities are endless and there are no mistakes. If you feel there are, you make them huge! When you make choices you make them active and strong. This mindset stretches creative thinking when in difficult situations or when facing mental or emotional ruts. Believing there is no such thing as mistakes or to boldly make mistakes can boost confidence in one’s thoughts, feelings, ideas, and decisions.
With that group mind you can think on your feet because you are present with your partners and are expanding your focus. There are two types of focus that you learn to activate through improv. One is hard focus, which is when you are narrowing in on your actions and listening to one person intensely. Soft focus has a wider lens of the whole picture of your scene with all the emotions, story lines and possibilities kept in mind. Attention and consciousness can expand and worries about the past and the future can diminish. Freedom from fear and trusting what comes in the moment can relieve pressure and build a sense of security.
Being present and supportive of your partners as well as being a good listener also improves interpersonal skills. Showing that you understand and validating the other person helps that person know they are being heard when in the middle of a conflict. Improv also emphasizes being honest and sharing your truth. Being authentic captivates people and allows walls and defenses to drop. It allows people to know themselves and others better to more easily interact with each other as well as let go of internal tension and relax into who they are.
Improv teaches you to regulate your speed, tone, volume in order to deliver at a pace that works well with the scene at hand. This can also help when managing stress and emotions when under pressure. It can also help with improving how you present yourself when doing public speaking or an interview or are on a date.
You are encouraged to embrace the unknown, to be humble and silly, to play, to take in everything with a sense of awe. You are a fool and a baby, two very happy characters. You learn to see things as if you’ve never seen them before and are filled with curiosity. You learn not to hold onto things and when to let things go. You listen to your gut and your natural instincts. It teaches you things that you spend your whole life time learning.
Improv teaches a lot of interpersonal skills but it also teaches a lot of other types of skills as well. It teaches how to multitask by keeping your hands and body active and busy in an imaginary world you have to remember while listening and responding to your partner. Improv teaches you to pay attention to daily life and how you and others around you move, function and interact with the world. You learn to observe the details of how people hold their bodies and faces or how they hold a cup or a cat. This is a very important skill for all artists as well occupational therapists who need to know all the mechanics, facets and realities of daily activities. Skillfully observing life helps one to make things feel real and familiar to others. It also teaches one to be more mindful while doing activities and to enjoy them without haste or carelessness.
Another skill improv supports is storytelling. We all play our stories in our head over and over about who we are, our lives, our jobs, our families, our futures, our pasts. What we don’t realize is the multiple perspectives we can have when looking at the same thing. Improv teaches you to take on new and unexpected perspectives and form spontaneous narratives that you may have not otherwise thought of because someone added a new direction to your thought and shifted the story’s whole direction. Improv also illustrates how easy it is to create a story out of nothing. It’s a great way to brainstorm and exercise the brain to think in that creative mindset. Improv can help people with creative blocks find how the content of an idea or a story evolves through the setting, relationship, character, emotion, movement, pose, prop or through many other possible techniques. The creative juices slowly are coaxed out until they are poured into the moment of the scene.
Improv can be a very therapeutic tool if you are hoping to be more creative, playful, supportive, authentic, open to possibility, present, mindful, grounded, self-aware and receptive towards other. It can help people with their social skills and build their confidence. Most of all it can help people connect to each other and have fun.