survive first improv class

So you finally decided to sign up for your first improv class? That’s awesome, congratulations.

Over the years I’ve taken a number of classes; some of have been incredible, others not so much. Here are a 10 tips I’ve learned on how to make the most out of your maiden voyage into classes on improvisation.

#1) Have an open mind.

Let’s be honest, some improv exercises are weird. Organic openings, honest emotional monologues, and even Bunny Bunny can seem weird at first. But they all have a purpose in making you a better improviser.

Keep an open mind and allow yourself to truly commit to the exercise.

#2) Don’t try to be “right.”

I like to be right. I also like to do things right. As a result, improv can be a challenge. When doing improv exercises or scenes, I used to have a mentality of “I want to do this exercise correctly” or even figure out the purpose of it and then do it “perfectly” to impress the instructor.

Improv doesn’t work like that. First, the exercises are not meant to be done perfectly. You’re going to forget a word or two when jumping into Hot Spot–that’s more than fine. Second, the beauty of improv is that there is no wrong choice, but that also means there is no right choice either. There’s only the choice you make in the moment and what you do with it afterwards.

#3) Leave your judgment at the door.

You’re going to do bad improv scenes. Your classmates are going to do bad improv scenes. Heck, your instructor may lead you into bad improv scenes (or “stupid” exercises or “dumb” sidecoaching or countless other things you may want to criticize).

In fact, if you aren’t doing any bad scenes or exercises that challenge your style of play, you probably aren’t pushing yourself.

The point is, leave any type of that judgment at the door. If you want to critique your own play later, after class (as I often do as a way to see where I need to make improvements), fine. Just don’t do it in class. It takes you away from the moment and distracts you from what’s important–being present for your other classmates.

#4) Be confident but humble yourself.

Some people enter into an improv class with loads of experience. Maybe they were in an improv group in college or have performed in theater or have done a number of shows as a stand-up comedian. Some people enter class never having done any type of performance before.

Whichever group you fall into, be confident in your ideas (they’re already awesome, they may just need to be tweaked as you go), but also be humble about your skill.

This second point is especially true for people who have improv experience. You may start to think “I’m too good for this” or “I already know all this.” Sure you might already know concepts like “Yes And,” but it can be hugely beneficial to take a step back and review the basics from time-to-time.

Use a return to basic improv as an opportunity to work on a new style or challenge yourself in a new way. Be confident in your abilities but humble yourself and do all of the exercises with 100% commitment.

#5) Get to know your classmates.

In all the classes I’ve taken the one thing more important than the instructor has been my classmates. And I don’t mean who the people are, but what’s my relationship to them, how well do I get to know them.

The classes that I’ve hated or were ambivalent about were the ones where I didn’t get to know the 15 other people who I’d be spending 8 weeks with. They were just acquaintances I saw once a week.

The classes that I’ve loved have been the ones where I got to know the people I was learning with. We would go out together after class, see shows together, or even just do bits over email. Not only does it make the class more fun, it also makes the improv scenes better.

And a bit of forecasting for you: it’s the people you stay connected to that will likely make up your first Indie team (an important next step after your first few levels of classes).

Note: The first 5 tips were more on the mindset and attitude to have while in class. The next 5 are more practical in nature.

#6) Bring a notebook (and pen).

You don’t have to take extensive notes (like I did), but write down key phrases or ideas that your teacher says that you like. Some of my favorite improv quotes include:

  • “Treat your fellow players like geniuses and poets.”
  • “Be more brave than impressive.”
  • “We want to see the t-rex with the backpack.”

#7) Bring a bottle of water.

It’s always good to stay hydrated and you’ll likely be talking and/or moving around a lot.

#8) Eat something before class.

You don’t want to be distracted by hunger while you’re focusing on becoming a better improviser.

#9) Wear appropriate clothing.

While you may look great in that suit or stunning in that dress, it will likely restrict your choices as an improviser. You want to wear comfortable clothing that you would be fine rolling around in–you never know when your improv scene is going to require demonstrating “stop, drop, and roll” or re-enacting an army “crawl-through-the-trenches” scene.

If you’re coming directly from work (as I so often did), either bring a change of clothes or be willing to spend a little more on dry-cleaning in case you get dirt on your business attire.

#10) Most importantly, have fun.

No matter what your reason for taking an improv class, you should have fun. Not just because, “yay, fun!” but because it will make your improv scenes better. When you’re enjoying your time on stage with your classmates, you’ll make moves that excite you and your fellow players. And isn’t the whole point of improv to have fun? I think so.

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