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What Kind of Improviser are You?

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.

– Henry Ford

One of my students years ago gave me a book called “Mastery: The Keys to success and long-term fulfillment”.  It is a short book and great. It talks about the 5 different types of learners. The Dabbler, The Obsessive, The Hacker, The Expert and The Master.

The Dabbler starts strong. They are into it 100%. When they meet their first challenge (or a great one) they decide that this is not for them and try something else.

The Obsessive want immediate success.  They throw themselves into whatever they are doing. They push themselves and everyone around them to go past their limitations. They want to be great from the first class. The obsessive makes great strides followed by great falls and then plateaus until they start obsessing again. They can burn out or burn the people around them out.

The Hacker just wants to do it. They want to play and get on stage. They are not interested in improving and they are fine with the status quo of their performance. They might even fool themselves into believing that they have peaked and reached the best they can do.

“Expert” is a code word we use at the theater for someone who can’t be taught. It is usually someone who had a class in college and thinks they know everything about  improv. They are not here to better themselves. They are not here to learn. They are not here to improve. They take classes just to get into shows or to “show off” their skills. We can’t get through to them, therefore we have nothing to offer them. They are done on their journey even though they might not think they are. The expert will also argue and correct the teacher and the other students in class. They believe they are right, everyone with something new to say is wrong.

The person striving for mastery (the Master) still is learning. They read books, take workshops, study, and discuss their passion. They know that they don’t know everything. They are trying to become better and learn and hopefully add to the art.

Masters Practice. They put the time in to keep their skills. They play. They focus on strengthening their weak point and pushing their strengths. They spend time trying different techniques and skills.

Masters Surrender. They give up being the expert. They trust their teacher. They absorb the book. They are open in discussion. They know that they don’t know everything.

Masters are intentional. They know that the things in the mind become real with visualization.  In sports this might mean seeing the putt in your head before swinging the club,, but in improv this meas that we see the space objects on stage. If we are supposed to be in love, we believe it and don’t question it. We know that the reality of the stage is real.

Masters are always pushing themselves to the edge. They are putting themselves in situations that push their skills and even their physical nature. They are always stretching how far they can go, thereby increasing how far they can go.

What kind on improviser are you? Are you in the process of mastery? Is this something that is a journey for you. Something that you are fascinated by and understand that you are not so much a part of it as it is a part of you? 


I am still learning.

 – Michael Angelo age 90   

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