How Can Improv Help You?
We interviewed some past students and friends and asked how improv improved their life off stage. Watch the video below, and then read on for more detail, to hear directly from a doctor, a psychologist, a lawyer, an educator, and a dating coach as to how improv has helped them, and how it may help you too!
Read On - Why I Love Improv
I stepped, maybe even skipped, into my first improv class in 2000 at the University of Florida. The class and club was officially part of the Theatre Department, and I had been a scripted actor since age 5. I immediately knew improv was something I wanted to do forever when I felt the exhilaration of walking into a scene not knowing what would happen next.
Ah, the magic of performance improvisation. But what happened after class was even more eye opening.
As I stuck around and talked excitedly with my new friends and cast mates, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was one of the few “theatre nerds.” As I asked people what their majors were or what their next class was, I heard math, engineering, education, psychology, computer science, and the list went on and on, with a few theatre majors sprinkled here and there.
Why take an improv class?
(even if you aren’t a performer)
That is a question that has been answered over and over for me in my many years as a performer, coach, and instructor. Improv as we know it was created in the theatre world, but it was created for the purpose of communication far more than for entertainment. The skills learned and grown by improvisation impact our lives in multiple ways – in our work, relationships, and personal development.
I recently sat down to chat with some friends new and old, all with varied levels of improv experience, to ask how improv has helped them in everyday life.
You Learn To Be In The Moment
David Cooper, currently a manager of strategic partnerships for a digital health start-up and former clinical psychologist, shares, “One of the things I found helpful from my improv training that I think is applicable not only to business but psychology was learning to think on your feet.
You know, I’m a new therapist, I’ve never done therapy before, and I’m sitting there in a room with someone who is obviously going through something emotionally, going through something personally, and I have to figure out how to deal with it. And you’re getting thrown this curveball that you normally have never interacted with in your normal life.
You have to figure out how to behave, how to respond, how to be genuine in that moment. And that’s really something that I got from improv that helped me with psychology was the ability to remove myself from the dynamic going on, but still figure out a way to be present and react in the moment to what I was getting from the person across from me.”
You Learn That Communication Is More Than Words
We also spoke with Pam Greenspon, a pediatrician, who works with kids of all ages and their families. When asked how it is to speak with parents versus children, she says, “I still talk to the little kids, even though I get different information when I speak with them, obviously, than when I speak with the parent. But even as babies, I’ll still talk to them. And so I do think improv has helped in being a little more open to the different ways [of communication].”
Pam found improvisation through the medical world as opposed to the theatre world. “I had my first exposure to improv at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference. There was a family practice doctor who started doing improv kind of as a hobby, and she started recognizing all of the ways that improvisation could be applied to medicine. She saw all of the benefits to communication with patients, because, essentially, every medical encounter is improv.
You know, we think we know what might be happening, but really we don’t. And there are always interesting things that can come out of a patient encounter.”
You Learn How to Focus, and How to Fail
In the therapeutic and medical setting, listening and empathy are top priority. We also find high stakes in places where conflict is central. “As an attorney, I definitely feel like improv has helped me in the courtroom and with clients,” shares Alexis Brown, a Vegas attorney, and co-Vice President of the Southern Nevada Association of Women Attorneys.
“I think I was already pretty decent with clients, but I think especially in the courtroom, because [there] was a certain level of anxiety when you walk into a courtroom, [and] I think that’s normal, especially for younger lawyers. Improv was always that safe space to be able to sort of fail. It gave me the ability to lose track of that little thing in the back of my mind, that would turn on and say, why did you say that?
That’s what improv over the course of time has really done for me, especially in places like the courtroom. Because if I’m distracted about what I should have said, or that I’m not focusing on the judge, I’m not focusing on what opposing counsel is saying. I’m not able to focus on what my client is doing. So I guess it kind of gives you a broader ability to focus on more things at once.”
You Learn How to Connect to People
Trust is arguably the most important component in human relationships, specifically romantic relationships. Amie Leadingham, a Certified Master Relationship Coach, grew onstage and off through her time in improv classes.
“When I started relationship coaching and dating coaching, I thought it was just going to be a virtual space, and I was going to be just working at home and helping people. And that did happen.
But as things started progressing, I started getting called on television interviews or, you know, live interviews at an event. And I had stage fright like everybody does. And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ There was so much anxiety. Back then, when I first started, my business coach told me, ‘Maybe you should go try improv.’ ”
Beyond her own want to gain comfort in business situations, Amie saw value in improv tenets analogous to the dating relationships she was coaching. “I think improv requires you to be present. I think when we’re so in our heads and not in the moment, [it’s the] same thing with dating.
It’s like when you are thinking to the future or the past, you’re not here, and it stops you from really living and being in the moment. Improv helps you stay present and just be in the moment, even with all the chaos going around or lots of people watching you. You’re still able to just hone in and be there in the moment with whoever you’re in front of.”
You Learn to Trust Others, and Yourself
So has improv taken away the fear of going out on a limb, or doing the ever-terrifying public speaking? “There’s nothing to be fearful about when people have your best interests [in mind]. And I think the people who create improv classes really have your best interest, and they want you to grow. They want to help support you.
And then you can build a community and friendships too outside of that. I mean, the friends that I’ve met through improv, I still stay connected with. So I definitely think it’s a great way to build community, build your skill sets and then also build your confidence.”
Performing onstage, creating, and getting laughs from an audience still shoots me to the moon. I will always be an actor. But the value I have seen bloom in people’s lives through a more functional style of improvisation has transformed this art form into a way of life for me, a way to truly educate people in every facet of professional, personal, and intellectual life. If you wonder who improv is for, the answer is You.
A final thought from Amie the Dating Coach: “I will tell you I was nervous for sure. But you’re putting yourself out there. And being uncomfortable and growing is a good thing. Right?”
Convinced? Come check out one of our upcoming improv classes!
If you’re sold on the idea that improv is more than just trying to get laughs on stage, be sure to check out our upcoming classes to give one a try yourself. You can also sign up for our newsletter to hear about future classes, learn more about the topics we cover each week, and help ensure you give the improv journey a try. We love first timers, and we love improving people’s lives through improv.