SH Sean Harding/blog
Beginning Improv, Part Three: Addiction Takes Hold
Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

In retrospect, getting through my first improv class was a pretty big deal. It didn’t really feel like it at the time, though. By the end of the class, I was having so much fun that I’d almost forgotten I was nervous in the first place. I wouldn’t say that the first class had me hooked for life; there were still some doubts lingering in the back of my head. But I was definitely tiptoeing down the path to addiction.

We have class once a week, so I didn’t get any more improv for six days. By the time Tuesday came around again, the high from the first class had worn off a bit. I was feeling tired and I wasn’t really excited about going to class for three hours after work. Excuses started creeping into my head. I mustered all of my strength and forced myself to go anyway. I told myself that I’d enjoyed it last week, and I could make it through this week too. It turned out that by the end of the class I had tons of energy. Rather than wearing me out more, improv was the perfect pick-me-up at the end of a tiring day.

Each week, I’ve enjoyed class more. By the third session, I was a bona fide improv addict. I didn’t know the addiction could grow so strong so quickly, but improv is a powerful drug. It’s so powerful that I find myself thinking about it at strange times. Inappropriate times. All the time. Though three hours seemed too long for a class when I signed up, it turned out to be perfect. It’s long enough to get a lot of different things done, but not so long that it’s exhausting.

One of the things I found most challenging in the first class was staying in character. I don’t know if it was caused by nerves, or just the fact that many of the scenes were genuinely amusing. For the first several scenes I was in, I just couldn’t avoid laughing or at least breaking a smile at an inappropriate moment. I even laughed once as I lay “dead” on the floor. This became my first personal goal in the class: learn to get through even hilarious scenes without laughing (not that most of our scenes were hilarious, but I like to set stretch goals!). I started making a concerted effort to break the habit. And it’s mostly worked. I wouldn’t say I’m totally cured, but I’m doing much better than I was a few weeks ago.

Another thing I’ve tended to struggle with is thinking that I will have a hard time doing a new exercise or game. When I hear the description, I sometimes think, “geez, how am I going to do that?” My tactic for combating this is to make myself stand up to try it in the first group. If I just stand up and do it before I have a chance to think about it, it always goes fine. If I were to sit there and deliberate, I might end up convincing myself I can’t do it, and really setting myself up for failure. I call this my “just do it” policy, no Nike plug intended. The more I’ve worked on this, and the more different games, scenes and exercises I’ve done, the less of an issue it’s become. Now I find that I rarely think about how I can’t do something, and I almost never hesitate to try something even if it’s very new.

I love almost all of the exercises and warm-ups we’ve done in class (the “Do Run Run” name game being a notable exception). Obviously, it’s really hard to beat machine-monster-slow motion riot-monster-machine. And a lot of the Theatresports games are a real blast. But undoubtedly my favorite part of improv so far is doing open scenes. When I’m in a scene that works out well, I’m walking on clouds for the next three or four days. Even one powerful moment is enough to make me feel great.

Now that I’m really into improv, going to class once a week isn’t enough. I need a fix more often than that. But I’ll save that discussion for part four…

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