I’ve been a professional improviser for over thirteen years, and I consider myself an entertainment daredevil. In my mind, improv and skydiving are one and the same. Why? Because they’re both ridiculously stupid things to do.
Let’s face it, skydiving is simply moronic. You pay someone your hard-earned money to ride in their airplane, where you have your own seat and seatbelt. When the plane lands, you could walk right off, and be in an exciting new location; maybe on some sunny tropical island, or maybe party it up in Vegas, whatever. Instead, skydivers wait until they are 10,000 feet above ground, and they jump out of the airplane hurling their bodies toward the Earth at staggering speeds, hoping their parachute will soften the blow. What a dumb thing to do!
So why do people do it? Because it’s an adrenaline rush. Because it’s an adventure. Because it’s the thrill of a lifetime. Because it’s an incredible amount of fun! Those thoughts and more make this “dumb” activity suddenly feel worth it.
Improv similarly, is a really foolish thing for a performer to do. Let’s face it, if you want to be a star, you should go into film or scripted theater, where writers have spent hours, months, or years, making sure you have a fully developed character to play with all the right things to say, and there’s a director to guide you along, making your choices clear, telling you where to stand, what to do, when to enter, when to leave, and what the heck to do with your hands. Then of course there’s costumers, and lighting engineers all ready to make sure you always look gorgeous (or hideous if that’s what the role requires). Instead, of all that, an imrpvisor jumps up onto what is most likely a bare stage, gets a suggestion from an audience member, and counts down 5-4-3-2-1, create something! Go!
What a dumb thing to do!
So why do people do it? Same reasons as skydiving, because it’s an adrenaline rush. Because it’s an adventure. Because it’s the thrill of a lifetime. Because it’s an incredible amount of fun for you, your scene partners, and your audience.
Now, here’s the good news: If you make a mistake while doing improv, the consequences are much less severe, than if you make a mistake skydiving.
If you make a mistake while skydiving, there’s a pretty good chance it’s the last mistake you’ll ever make.
If you make a mistake performing an improv scene, 99% of the time, the worst case scenario is (Dun Dun Dunnnnn) a bad scene! And to that, I say, so what? A bad scene isn’t going to kill you. It may hurt your pride for a moment or two, but once you get past that, you’ll grow, you’ll learn, and most importantly, you’ll live to do another scene in the future.
With more than thirteen years experience as an improvisor, I’ve done my share of bad scenes, hundreds, maybe thousands of them, and I’ve survived every last one, and every time one scene fails, I learn from it. I grow stronger as an improvisor and as a performer in general, and often, the scene right after that is a homerun.
So if you’re considering taking an improv class, or jumping into a theatre game with friends or peers, look your fear straight in the eye, and JUMP OUT OF THE AIRPLANE, you will survive, you will learn how to work well with others, how to trust your instincts, how to take bigger (and more rewarding) theatrical risks, and you will have the adventure of a lifetime.
Rob Ward is a freelance show writer and director and a resident improv performer and instructor at Orlando’s SAK Comedy Lab.