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Improv

Things You Learn While Having Spontaneous Fun

By Christopher Brazelton

Improvisation, the theatrical form where dialogue and action are made up on the spot, is not-so-suddenly all the rage. It has been a hit for a while and is a very accessible form of live performance for its audience.

Why improv? On the outside, audiences seem to be drawn to this form. But performing can be a very intimidating starting point to begin a life on the stage — no script, no director, no guide — just “go.” Perhaps that is just it — the stakes are high. However, improv may offer more than you think to those who work in offices and boardrooms rather than on stage. Before you say, “That’s not for me,” here is some insight as to why you may want to do more than just watch improv. Improv has quite a bit to teach:

1. You learn to own your power.
In improvisation, you learn to be who you are, to be bold, to challenge conventions, and to question the rules. When you understand what you have to offer and know how to bring it forward, you own your power. You know your purpose, and you can act in a way that’s deliberate, focused, and grounded in your values.

2. You learn to embrace your fear.
Fear is an undeniable element of improv, especially when it’s done in front of an audience. What if you flub a scene, or freeze up, or can’t keep up with the group? You must learn to use those fears to fuel your performance, knowing that everyone gets it wrong sometimes. And it’s the same in leadership and business. Failure is part of every human enterprise and endeavor. Learning to embrace your fears helps you overcome them and learn to treat them as a conduit for greatness.

3. You develop better listening skills.
Improv is all about listening. In fact, listening is a key skill for all actors, allowing them to work off each other. In today’s busy world, it can be hard to shut out the noise and be aware of the present moment, whether you’re in the workplace or on stage. Listening skills help you silence the noise of your own thoughts, so you can hear and be present with another. Improvisation helps you build those skills in a creative and innovative way.

4. You learn the value of collaboration.
Acting, business, and life in general require collaborative skills. A well-rounded team is composed of people with differing abilities, personalities, and life experiences, working together and having each other’s respect and attention. This is true no matter where you apply it. Understanding each member’s strengths and weaknesses is crucial when it comes to keeping your team, friends, and family happy.

5. You learn to adapt and be agile.
Improv requires flexibility and agility. When something isn’t working, the actors must often change things on the fly. In acting, you learn that change is just another part of the process of getting it right. In business, implementing even positive change can be challenging. But when leaders know how to communicate, they know how to address their staff in a way that empowers and includes them, bringing them along and making them feel they are part of something bigger than themselves.

6. You learn to build a great ensemble troupe.
A great ensemble is key to successful improvisation. The same is true for business and leadership. On stage, each team member has a part to play and a role to execute. If you can make each person on your team feel important and purposeful, you’ll have a team with nothing but stars.

7. You learn the importance of creativity and discovery.
Improvisation is about discovering and creating on stage, and the best teams in every field are equally fueled by these actions (along with hard work). Team discoveries create innovation and strengthened brands.

8. You learn to lead — and to follow.
When an improv troupe is on stage, roles change and adapt seamlessly. The person who is leading one moment is following the next. True leadership is about that same ebb and flow. Sometimes, leaders lead with vision and goals; other times, they follow the ideas and innovation. You must know how to follow and lead at the same time.
Even if you never quit your day job, the skills you learn from improv can benefit you in all facets of life. Whether you take a class or just pay more attention the next time your favorite improv group is playing, watch and learn!

While the theatre at large can change the shape and face of a community, improv has an uncanny way to unwind the individual and create a better self, a better leader. So, go get involved, go improv, just — try it! Who knows, you may find yourself in the spotlight as a leader.


Christopher Brazelton is the executive director at Elm Street Cultural Arts Village, 8534 Main Street, Woodstock. 678-494-4251. ElmStreetArts.org