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An Improvisers Journey

An Improvisers Journey

  • by
  • Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Anyone who is skilled in the art of improvisation can tell you that there is three distinct phases for new improvisers. The phases are usually progressive and not all of them are always achieved. Players can plateau in a phase and never let themselves transcend it. I hear a lot from people "I'm stuck". These folks are usually at the end of one phase and are about to transition to the next phase. The trick is that every transition requires time, guts and trust. 

So let's talk about the three phases for improvisers I see the most here at the Bovine School Improv.

First Phase: Fear. So many people at the start improvisation the first thing have to get over is afraid of being on stage. They get up on stage and they are terrified. They don't know what are going to say or do. They're scared to death. They are improvising. They are getting past their fear and into the unknown. This is an amazing journey and scary and fun!

Some folks can stay at this level for a while other get past it after their first show. Others need more performances, reps and laughs to start to feel better. Most people don't appreciate how wonderful this stage is. You are improvising. You are moving forward without knowing how. Eventually, if you stick around long enough, you start to feel comfortable on stage, which is the next phase.

Second Phase: Comfort. One day it happens, you are no longer scared. You're having fun. You may even feel in control or able to navigate on stage. Comfortable players don't sweat it anymore. The fear is gone, and is replaced by the knowing that they can get through this and get laughs. They are no longer going into the unknown, they are managing the stage.

The problem with this phase is that most people get here and think they are improvising and stop. They're not really improvising; they think they are because they are not scared anymore. They get on stage and use well-worn tools to be comfortable. They start arguments, dissent, or use the same characters over and over. They have put in enough hours to find a way to be safe on stage. It can be very fun and you can get laughs, but you are not improvising. 

Third Phase: Improvisation. After a period of time, some players get bored with being comfortable on stage and start to take chances and explore the unknown. Others crave the chaos and lurch into it. Some never get to this phase. Others just jump into it. At this phase you want to be surprised and say "Yes &" to whatever. You want your improvisation to be uncertain and as much of a surprise to you as it is to the audience. You want it to be scary and as raw as the uncertainty we all live with. This is when we actually started to improvise.


Do remember that improv team? The ones that made you love improv. The group who all flowed together as one, who seemed fearless? The ones that said "Yes, &" so much that you were taken on a journey into a strange world. That group was improvising! They were going headfirst into the unknown. They were not comfortable, they were excited! They were firestarters! They were all barreling toward the edge of the cliff without knowing where this. That is improvisation.

To truly become an improviser, you must embrace the unknown. You must go past the comfort and into the abyss. Then you transcend the comfort and move into possibility. You will be surprised by your choices. You will revel in the fear, because that is where the unknown is and that is where improvisation is.

If you're new to improv and a little afraid on stage right now, don't worry it will pass. At this pahse don't forget to enjoy the moments of surprise on stage. These are the moments are when you first start improvising. Soon, you will be comfortable being on stage in front of strangers without a script, but when you do, please don't think you are improvising. Once you are comfortable on stage, try harder to embrace the unknown and build on it. Try to "yes, &" out of your comfort zone.

Throw curveballs. Catch curveballs. Be surprised. Fail. Succeed. Take chances. Be surprised by the choices your character makes! Have fun! Then you are an improviser!