I am taking an improv class. I have learned how much it can influence my creativity. My awesome instructor Chris chants mantras to us weekly and tries to instill habits that will help us be better on stage. This week I realized that these are lessons that everyone needs to learn to exercise and be comfortable with to be creative.
1) Warm up
Every Tuesday as we arrive at class Chris is ready for us to warm up. We need to shake off the worries and stresses from the day to truly be in the moment. We start off with something simple, maybe even just counting. It gets us warmed up and feeling successful so we can move on to the harder exercises of the night.
The lesson I feel all of us can learn from this is to take some time to orientate yourself to your creative task. If you start to attack a problem that you need creativity for and you haven’t cleared your head, firmly planted yourself in the moment, and done some exercises to warm up, it is much harder to get going.
2) Everything is in the room
Improv is done with no set, no props, and no costumes. Everything is improvised. Therefore, everything you need is in the room, nothing less, nothing more. If you need a flubbermaster extrawozer babble bar, it appears!
What if you approached your creative time with the belief that everything you need is there and available? Instead of seeing limitations this would open you up to all of the possibilities. You would never be without exactly what you need to solve your problem.
3) Everything is a gift
When you are performing improv you never know what your partner is going to hand you; sometimes it’s flowers, sometimes it is a pooper scooper. You can never predict what it will be. It is your job to accept the gift, say thank you, and figure out how to use it.
I like to think of our problems the same way. You never know what is going to be handed to you. But if you look at it from a positive perspective there are more possibilities that are open. I know for myself when I have gotten the “pooper scooper”, like getting more workload with no extra help, it made me look at more creative ideas and solutions that eventually lead me to a new process that freed up more time for all of my team. So in the end it was a win.
4) Heighten the situation
In improv the scene starts when someone makes a declaration such as “wow, that stinks.” You as their partner then have the choice. Do you deny it? You can say “no, I don’t think it stinks that bad”. Or you can say “You’re right! Getting fired from your job and hit by a bus is amazingly awful.” Which do you think makes the better improv comedy scene?
In the same way you have choices in creative solutions. How do you heighten your creative solution? How do you make things over the top? Often this type of thinking helps provide you with break through ideas.
5) Build trust with your partner
When performing improv it is you and your partner alone on the stage. There are no props, scenery, or costumes to hide behind. You need to trust that your partner is going to throw you something good to work with. You need to know that they are working with your joint best interest in mind. Anytime someone hijacks a scene and makes it about them the scene usually flops.
So as you look for creative solutions, learn who are the partners that you can trust. Notice who is always looking out for the good of the team and will throw you a great line when you need it. Cultivate these relationships so they are there when you need them.
6) Pay attention
Things are always moving fast on the improv stage. A story can take a turn at any moment, or your partner might need you to step in and bail him out. This heightened level of attention is necessary; you can’t be day dreaming and be successful.
In the same way, always be looking at what is happening around you. Sometimes the most creative solutions are sitting right in front of you. Often the best ideas are ones that combine things you already know. Use this skill to keep you focused and ready to pounce on something that surfaces no matter which side of the stage it comes from.
7) Don’t pre-script
I have quickly learned that scripting out a scene in my head is the kiss of death in improv. It keeps me focused on what I think will happen instead of what is happening around me. I am working so hard to set up the line that I wanted to say that I don’t use the gifts that are given to me.
So as you start to creatively solve a problem, don’t assume you know what the “script’ is. Be open to ideas as they unfold around you. Let things go where they flow; you might get to someplace even better than you imagined.
8) Sometimes you need some side coaching
Sometimes no matter how hard our class tries we don’t always follow these rules. That is when Chris, our trusted teacher, steps in to do a little side coaching. He gently urges us to remember the tips above and gives us a redo so we can practice our skill and grow.
In the real world don’t be afraid of asking for help, especially if you are working in a new area or stuck on a problem. Look to trusted teachers and mentors to help remind you that you are capable of solving any problem; you might just need to do a re-take.
I was introduced to Improv initially through a fabulous workshop put on by the Brave New Workshop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. John Sweeney, the current owner and director of BNW, is a huge believer of using improv in business and life. He has a great book called “Innovation at the Speed of Laughter“. Anyone interested in taking improv classes should check out the Student Union at the BNW. Or find an improv group in your city. It can teach you about much more than comedy. And you will have a laugh doing it.