Improv in the Spotlight: Embracing the Unexpected on Stage

Improv in the Spotlight: Embracing the Unexpected on Stage

Making the Improvable Possible

My heartbeat is like a rhythmic thunderclap in my chest. I’m apprehensive and restless. I’m standing in a room behind the stage of a small theatre with 10 others. We’re about to perform a show that none of us know the lines to. There’s no script, no set characters, barely any planned structure. Just us, the audience, and the endless realm of possibilities.

Welcome to the thrilling, unpredictable world of improv comedy. As I’ve learned, improv is so much more than a fun experience – it can actually teach you a surprising number of important life lessons. By embracing all that improv has to offer, you stand to gain much more than you may initially expect.

Bouncing Back from Missteps

Improv is an organic form of comedy. It’s unpredictable and can go in nearly every direction. While that can be incredibly freeing, the lack of guidelines can also lead to some slip-ups. You might freeze up on stage or misinterpret what one of your co-performers is doing. Trips and falls can happen. Props may break. You just never know.

But even if something goes incredibly wrong, the show must go on. Improv has taught me to make sure a misstep doesn’t hold me back – that I can keep going even when something doesn’t go right. That mistake isn’t the end of the world. That mindset is as true for improv as it is for life. In the face of challenges, I’ve learned to adapt, recover, and move forward.

Elevating Ideas, Not Starting from Scratch

Many times when it comes to a person’s professional life, people assume that only new ideas are valuable. However, that isn’t true. In improv, you’re taught to use the “yes, and” approach. It involves accepting everything about the scene and then trying to build upon it. Take what you have and try to make it a bit better, funnier, or more engaging.

That same concept can serve you well in your career too. If you can take an idea and elevate it, that’s a valuable skill. The ability to enhance or adjust an idea can lead to interesting innovations, so don’t assume that you have to come up with something from scratch – as that isn’t always necessary.

Embracing Spontaneity

Improv is anything but planned. Usually, you aren’t given much in the way of guidance. Instead, you receive only a basic concept or two and then are left to navigate the situation as it shifts and moves organically. You have to adapt to other performers who may take things in an entirely different direction. If you don’t embrace being spontaneous, you’ll struggle.

While that level of spontaneity might not work in every aspect of my life, leaving some space for it is a smart move. I’ve learned to have a plan, but not to be so committed to it that I can’t change course should the situation dictate. Be ready to roll with the punches. That way, rigidity won’t hold me back or leave me frustrated when things didn’t go exactly how I pictured.

Active Listening as a Superpower

When you’re doing improv, you never know what the other performers will say. Conversations can go in literally any direction. That means you can’t spend time preparing a response or consider what you’ll say down the line. Instead, you have to be an engaged and active listener. Otherwise, you won’t be able to take in the scene as it’s unfolding and choose an appropriate course.

Active listening can serve me well in any arena of my life. It ensures that I focus on what the other person is sharing. I’m not getting caught up in preparing what I’m going to say next – a conversational approach that can cause me to miss critical details. Instead, I’m focused on taking everything in before I reply. When I use that approach, my contributions are more meaningful and relevant. Plus, it reduces the odds of misunderstandings or coming across like I wasn’t listening. Ultimately, it can make me a better conversationalist, which in turn can make me a better coworker, manager, spouse, parent, friend, or support system member.

The Power of Teamwork

Improv is rarely a solo venture. Instead, it’s all about a group of people coming together to make an audience laugh. They have to work together, play off of one another, and do their best to make sure that everyone shines. When they focus on being the best group they can be, that’s when the magic happens.

Often, life also relies on teamwork. It’s coworkers solving problems as a group, spouses keeping a household running together, and any other instance where there is more than one person involved. Really, teamwork does make the dream work in so many areas of life, so it’s an important skill to develop. Improv has taught me the value of being a strong team player, both on and off the stage.

Where Do I Sign Up?

Improv theatres are the premier destinations for improvisational comedy. While some comedy clubs have improv nights, certain ones are specifically known for improv. By heading to a full-fledged improv theatre, you can enjoy some of the best performances around. Both in-house troupes and traveling groups may make their way to the venues, allowing the locations to host more shows. Plus, some of the venues play a big role in improv’s history, making a trip to those theatres particularly meaningful for aspiring comics or fans of the genre.

If you want to experience some amazing shows, here’s what you need to know. When you catch a show at an improv theatre, you’re going to have an incredibly unique experience. Since the comedy is unscripted, you can’t anticipate what may happen. Almost anything goes, and no two performances are alike. Additionally, while the term “theatre” sounds incredibly formal, most of the venues aren’t. While some are fairly large, they tend to feel relaxed and comfortable. The d├ęcor is usually a bit understated, as improv performances can go nearly anywhere, and elaborate sets may limit the possibilities. The only exception may be for themed shows. No matter which venue you choose, the focus is always on fun and embracing the unexpected.

If you’re looking for a great improv theatre to check out, here are six you need to explore:

Venue Location Notable Features
Bad Dog Theatre Toronto, Canada Home to the longest-running improv show in Toronto, offering professional-level programming featuring in-house troupes. Intimate setting great for audience involvement.
iO Theater Chicago, USA Built by improv legend Del Close and his founding partner Charna Halpern, a must-visit for improv fans. Stars like Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers have performed here early in their careers.
Free Association London, UK Hosts over 300 shows a year, featuring both seasoned performers and up-and-comers. Also hosts competitive “Cage Matches” where teams battle for the crown.
Hollywood Improv Los Angeles, USA One of the best-known comedy clubs in the world, with a storied history. Improv performers and standup comedians regularly appear on its stage.
Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre New York City, USA The most popular improv destination in New York City, attracting famous performers and celebrities. Co-founded by comedy legend Amy Poehler.
The Second City Chicago, USA Improv comedy ended up on the map thanks to The Second City, which has launched the careers of famed comics like Tina Fey, Keegan-Michael Key, and Steve Carell.

No matter which improv theatre you choose to visit, you’re in for a truly memorable experience. The spontaneity, energy, and sheer talent of the performers will keep you on the edge of your seat. And who knows – you might even be inspired to give improv a try yourself after seeing the magic unfold before your eyes.

So if you’re looking to expand your horizons and embrace the unexpected, head on over to your nearest improv theatre. It’s a journey that just might change the way you see the world – and yourself. And if you’re ever in the musical theater education and performance center neighborhood, be sure to stop by and let us know all about your improv adventures!

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