I recently wrapped up Level I improv classes at the Bovine Metropolis Theater in Denver. Going in, what I knew of improv came from “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” – a show I used to love! I admired how the artists on stage created real life out of thin air. They cracked the audience up, while seeming to genuinely have a blast themselves. I wondered how they could possibly think and act that quickly. My introverted, planner self who thinks everything through first decided that now was the time to find out what this art form was all about (“There’s no time like the present” and all)!
While I did, in fact, learn how the comedians on “Whose Line” did it, I also came away with much more.
Here’s what I learned from improv classes that carries over into business and life.
Let go of expectations
One of the foundational tenants of improv is, “Yes, and…” When you or your scene partner put something into the world (“Wow! Look at this beautiful purple river,” or “Hi, what brings you into Lucky Mart today?”), the one thing you CANNOT do is explain that the river is in fact clear or that we’re in Lou’s Bakery. You accept what is given and build onto it, which, to me, means remaining open and accepting and going with the flow. And when you’re in that state, what you cannot do is hold onto your expectations of what’s going to happen. There’s no place for expectations in improv. You have to let them go — all of them.
You may think you’ve started a scene as an office worker, when all of a sudden a college student enters the scene to apply for a job at your bank. And wham, bam. You’re in a bank. This is also called “give and take” or “win and lose” in improv. At the end of the day, sometimes you have to let go of your expectations and your ideas in order to make a great scene. So you do. You have to let go of your ego and what you think might be right in service of your fellow players and the world you’re creating together.
In order for a scene to be believable (dining in a restaurant or pulling in a fishing net), it has to truly look to the audience like you’re really there doing it. This means that every part of your body has to be engaged. You have to see it, taste it, and especially feel it (the fork you’re eating salad with, the slippery floor of the fishing boat). No matter what it is, you have to be fully there. It goes from being make-believe to being your reality. And when you step out of a scene and realize how fully you had embraced being inside of it, like you really were enjoying a delicious meal with a friend or hauling in a giant catch at the end of the day, you realize the ultimate presence. If that presence breaks for even a second, the impact is palpable to the audience. So you stay there.
Trust yourself to make the best choice you can in that moment
Early on, we played a game where one partner acts out an everyday repetitive activity (think brushing your teeth, driving your car) and the other partner mirrors them until both are in sync. Then the second partner evolves that activity to something entirely different. Our teacher, Holly, coached us to slow down the action and listen to our body to change it. We don’t change it, our body does — a truly crazy concept for someone as heady as me to grasp. And that’s exactly the point.
When it came my turn to evolve the activity, I did what Holly instructed, and literally came up blank in my mind. I had no expectation, nor clue, of what I was going to change it into. I felt confused, at a loss, and a bit bewildered. And instead of fighting those feelings, I stayed there. I slowed it down and listened to my body until low and behold the barbell lifting activity my partner sent me became painting a portrait. After the fog came incredible clarity. But I had to slow it down and remain open to the process to get there. In improv, there’s no right and wrong. There’s no pre-meditation. You just have to “jump” – to enter a scene, to start to speak, and believe that it will come. It’s amazingly freeing to have a space where nothing is wrong, and everything is right.
It can be scary to get outside your comfort zone and force your brain into a new way of thinking like I did with improv, but the new insights you gain from it can be amazing. Fortunately, Kleriti Business Solutions can help you see new perspectives on your business challenges — and we won’t require you to put yourself out there in an improv class to make it happen! If you feel stuck with where you are in your business and want to break through to greater success, contact us today for your free Spotlight Session.
As for me, it’s on to Level II!
Is there a business challenge that you’ve struggled with for too long and could use outside perspective on? Tell us in the comments below.