Improv Firstimer: Reflections from Rice University’s Longform Improv Class

Before I registered for improv class, an avalanche of thoughts ran through my head:

You’re no good at improv, you’ll choke onstage, you’re not funny, why are you going to put yourself through this? 

But I DID sign up for improv class. What gave me the courage? I have no clue. Maybe I didn’t know what I was getting myself into at the time. But whatever spark in my brain that lead me into this class, the process of improv has become a sort of “tough love therapist” for me, completely exposing and forcing me to confront most of the insecurities that inhibit me on a daily basis.

I have always been a person who does not do well on the spot. I can’t help but plan out every scenario in my head thoroughly and even then I don’t feel very comfortable with what happens around me. I’ve done stage acting since 8th grade so stage fright really isn’t much of an issue for me – what is an issue is not having the safety net of the script to cling on to as my character bumbles across the stage. I quickly discovered through doing improv that even the best-laid plans are torn apart when reality rolls across them.

When you’re onstage, you have ABSOLUTELY no idea what’s going to come at you, and there’s not a single thing you can do about it. At this thought my brain wants to shriek “What?!? That sounds terrible!” But in practice I’ve found the unknown of an improv scene can actually be quite exciting if I can simply get myself to relax into following wherever the trail of the moment leads me. In order to do this I must focus on always moving forward and always making choices rather than standing still and letting paralysis overtake me. I cannot let the lack of control scare me away from what beautiful things can come from the mess.

In this way improv is always nudging me to find a better balance between thought and action. Both are important, but they only function at the highest level when they work hand it hand – thought prompting action, action prompting thought. An improv scene can only truly fail if the participants stop making choices, and this is something I have to remind myself of every time I get onstage.

Letting go of the concept of a “good” or “bad” improv scene has been another hurdle for me. I have a lot of anxiety about pleasing people, so at first being in what seemed to be an unfunny scene felt like a personal defeat. I’d have the urge to apologize to the audience afterward for having to suffer through it. But the sheer repetition of practicing improv scenes has made me realize that making people happy, though a great consolation prize, is not at the core of why we practice improv. We do it instead to hone something within ourselves, to discover new things, and to learn to truly trust our creative instincts.

I may not be a fantastic improviser, but that’s okay. I’m still a beginner, and I’m still learning – still learning how to improvise, and still learning how to live my life.

-Mackenzie T.