March 8

The Life-Changing Power of Functional Improv™

You’ve seen it on our website, you’ve heard it if you have attended one of our online classes, but what exactly is Functional Improv™?

Improv Basics

To break down our beloved trademark-pending term, let’s first start with improvisation. Well, if you have found your way to VIP, you may already have sense of what improv is. As students, coaches, and performers of improv for decades, we could go on about this for hours. Bottom line, though, improv is the discovery of information among an ensemble. No, we don’t simply make things up off the top of our heads, but we do say “yes” to new information presented, and we “and” by adding the next best action or reaction based on what we know. It is unplanned, unscripted, and it usually takes place onstage or in a workshop environment. 

Beyond the Stage

A cousin of performance improvisation is applied improvisation, which is improv skills applied to business or education. This type of improv takes the lessons of stage and executes them across broader communication channels.

Can we “yes, and” ideas in a meeting or in a classroom? Absolutely we can, and those lessons are more actionable than your standard powerpoint lecture.

Put the ‘Fun’ in Functional

What if we could take performance improv and applied improv and create something even greater than the sum of their parts? That is Functional Improv™. It recognizes all human interaction as improvisation with the opportunity to strengthen and grow in every moment. The words “strength” and “grow” are no accident. This concept was born from my (Natalie’s) experience as a personal trainer. Functional training in the fitness world means to do what your body already does anyway, but do it more.

For example, you can strengthen your legs by sitting in a weight machine and pushing against the plate, or you can build them by squatting down (watch those knees!) and standing back up again, and maybe holding something heavy while you do it.

Both ways get the job done, but the second one is functional. It is something you need to practice doing anyway, because in life, you’ll need to squat down and pick up something heavy on occasion. 

Let’s Use it in a Sentence (or a Lesson)

Functional Improv™ works the same way. Say you wind up in a conversation with a family member you don’t necessarily want to have. You may wander off in your mind, you may be practicing your retort the whole time they are speaking. A functional exercise we might use to address these difficult conversations is one in which you must repeat your partner’s last line of dialogue before you begin your line. 

For example, without this Functional Improv™ lesson: 

Uncle Jerry: You know, you really should have kept that job at the bank. Running off to join the circus was not the best idea!

You: Oh yeah, what do you know about following dreams?! (throws glass of wine in his face, storms off)

Uncle Jerry: Your dad’s going to hear about this!

With the help of this Functional Improv™ lesson:

Uncle Jerry: You know, you really should have kept that job at the bank. Running off to join the circus was not the best idea!

You: Running off to join the circus was not the best idea, in some ways. I know the job was more stable. But I wanted to poke my eyes out with the staple remover, and I am gifted on the trapeze. So it’s actually going well. 

Uncle Jerry: Hm. Well, it takes all kinds, I guess. Maybe you can get me tickets when you’re in the show!

Our Functional Improv™ exercise saved you a family fight and a glass of decent wine. 

Improv Belongs Everywhere

We believe that applying improv to all of life, not just the boardroom, classroom, or comedyroom (it’s a thing), benefits us as humans navigating the everyday. Each day we listen, react, emote, discover, sympathize, and empathize. We have to practice most things we do on a regular basis. What could be more important than practicing being a human?


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