Theatrical Improv: Embracing the Unexpected, Elevating the Art

Theatrical Improv: Embracing the Unexpected, Elevating the Art

Improv: A Powerful Theatrical Superpower

When I first started my journey into the world of improvisational theater, I’ll admit, I was absolutely terrified. The idea of stepping onto a stage and creating an entire scene from scratch – without any scripts, props, or predetermined actions – sounded like a one-way ticket to humiliation and embarrassment. I pictured myself freezing up, staring blankly at the audience, and making a complete fool of myself.

But then, a close friend of mine, who was surprisingly quite shy, shared his experiences taking an improv class. As he described the energy and confidence it had unlocked within him, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. So, I decided to take the plunge myself and signed up for a five-day improvisation intensive.

What happened next was nothing short of transformative. Within the first hour, my initial nerves and anxieties melted away, replaced by a sense of fascination and excitement. The exercises we dove into, while simple on the surface, allowed us to open up, connect with one another, and develop meaningful bonds in record time.

Suddenly, the prospect of improv didn’t seem quite so daunting. We were all in this together, supporting each other, and learning to embrace the unknown. Over the course of those five days, the core principles of improvisation – like “yes, and…” – came to life, demonstrating their profound applicability not just to the stage, but to every aspect of life.

Improv: A Masterclass in Relationships

One of the most powerful takeaways from my improv experience was the emphasis on building connections and relationships. The initial exercises we did to get to know one another were incredibly effective, helping us forge bonds that elevated our learning and performance.

As Jane Dutton, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, reminds us, organizations depend on individuals interacting and forming connections to accomplish their goals. And the quality of those connections directly influences the quality of the outcomes.

Think about it – it’s relatively easy to make connections in work and life, but it’s the depth and richness of those connections that truly matter. Companies that devote equal attention to relationships, in addition to tasks, have been shown to produce higher business results.

Improv, with its emphasis on fostering trust, safety, and playful engagement, is a masterclass in building these high-quality connections. By embracing the principles of improvisation, individuals and teams can develop a “relational reserve” – a bank of built-up trust, hope, and other virtues that support an organization during challenging times.

Improv at the Musical Theater Center

As an organization leader and practitioner, I’ve had the privilege of incorporating improv into my work at the Musical Theater Center. Each year, I teach improv to a class of undergraduate and graduate business school students as part of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations’ “Magnify” program.

This three-hour session is a powerful opportunity to use improv as a tool for building connections and relationships within the group. We start off as a room full of relative strangers, but by the end, a real team and community has been formed. The energy in the room transforms from reserved and hesitant to open, joyful, and alive.

One student described his experience this way:

“I had taken classes and workshops where the importance of play was elaborated and implemented heavily. We would play countless types of games, but the social skills they facilitated were not salient. During our time with Chris, every activity was purposeful. Each game or group exercise had the excitement of play in its natural form, but pushed us to utilize deeper team skills – taking directions, communication, and fast thinking are a few of the many vital social and career tools called upon, all disguised in a seamless, fun package.”

This sentiment echoes my own introduction to improvisation all those years ago. Through its invitation to play, improv reliably breaks down barriers and supports a relational engagement that is powerful and lasting. And from this foundation of connection, so much more becomes possible for individuals and organizations.

Improv: A Mindset for Life

Life is full of curveballs and unexpected twists and turns. Whether it’s a script change in the middle of a performance, a last-minute project pivot at work, or a global pandemic that upends our entire way of life, we are constantly faced with the unknown.

But here’s the thing – the principles of improvisation can serve as a powerful toolkit for navigating these uncertain waters. By embracing the “yes, and…” mindset, we learn to roll with the punches, build upon the ideas of others, and find creative solutions to even the most daunting challenges.

Improv teaches us to be active listeners, to let go of our egos, and to support our teammates – skills that are invaluable in both our personal and professional lives. It encourages us to approach problems with a sense of playfulness, curiosity, and a willingness to take risks.

Most importantly, improv reminds us that failure is not only inevitable, but essential to the creative process. By embracing missteps and mishaps as opportunities for growth and innovation, we free ourselves from the paralyzing grip of perfectionism and unlock our true potential.

Elevating the Art of Theatrical Improv

At the Musical Theater Center, we believe that improv isn’t just a comedic gimmick – it’s a powerful theatrical art form that deserves to be celebrated, studied, and elevated.

Too often, improv is dismissed as a “lazy” performance style, or relegated to the realm of comedy clubs and stand-up routines. But the truth is, improv requires an incredible level of skill, spontaneity, and ensemble collaboration. It’s a masterclass in adaptability, quick-thinking, and the ability to embrace the unexpected.

That’s why we’ve made improv a core component of our curriculum, offering classes and workshops that dive deep into the principles and techniques of this dynamic art form. Our students learn to trust their instincts, take creative risks, and work together to craft captivating, in-the-moment performances.

And it’s not just our aspiring actors and performers who benefit from this training. We’ve seen improv transform the lives of lawyers, salespeople, and even self-proclaimed “introverts” – unlocking newfound confidence, communication skills, and a willingness to step outside their comfort zones.

Because at the end of the day, improv isn’t just about comedy or entertainment. It’s a mindset, a way of approaching the world that can enrich every aspect of our lives. By embracing the unexpected, cultivating strong relationships, and learning to thrive in the face of uncertainty, we can elevate not just our performances, but our entire existence.

So whether you’re an experienced thespian or a complete novice, I encourage you to explore the power of theatrical improv. Who knows – it just might change the way you see the world, one unexpected scene at a time.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top