SH Sean Harding/blog
Beginning Improv, Part Four: Shows and Playground
Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Addictions have a funny way of gradually escalating. You might start with an innocent puff from a friend?s cigarette behind the school, and before you know it you?re smoking a pack a day. One cup of coffee in the morning turns into a continuous supply of double lattes. A single successful snapshot begets $20,000 of photography equipment. I fear my improv dependency is headed in the same direction. If I?m not careful, in a few years I?ll be living on the streets of downtown Seattle, begging passers by for spare suggestions and trying to do Theatresports games with the voices in my head.

After a few weeks of class, three hours on Tuesday night was just not cutting it for me. I needed to have more improvisation in my life. There were two obvious options: go to shows or go to Playground. The shows are really a no-brainer. We get into many of them for free with our student pass, and they?re of course very entertaining. They?re also extremely educational, without requiring much action on my part. I just sit there and learn. By watching the cast members improvise, I?ve picked up a lot of techniques, ?dos? and, yes, ?don?ts? for my own work. I?ve also been exposed to many more games than I?d otherwise get to see in such a short period of time. I?ve gone to one or two shows almost every week since I started going.

However, seeing is no substitute for doing. I knew that if I really wanted to get better at improv, I needed to practice as much as possible. That meant that I?d have to go to Playground. Playground was billed as a ?jam session? for students of all levels as well as cast members. Of course, being in level 100 meant that I?d be among the least experienced people there. No one from our class had gone by the time I started contemplating it, but the folklore was that it was a bit overwhelming. I had to go, but I was nervous.

The day before I went to my first Playground session, I sent out an email to my classmates, trying to rally a group to come with me. It would be a lot easier if I weren?t alone for my first time. Only a few people responded, and none of them were up for going that week. Even scarier, Playground is normally facilitated by our teacher, but there was a substitute that week. I almost bailed on the idea, but I decided to go anyway at the last minute. ?Just do it!?

When I arrived at the theatre, I was the first one there besides the facilitator. Right behind me were a high school student and his mom who were just there to observe. The facilitator was friendly, but I was getting more nervous by the minute. Thankfully, people trickled in over the next half hour or so, and we ended up having a good-sized group. Two people from my class even came. I was glad to have the company.

For the next three hours, I got to exercise my ?just do it? policy a lot. It wasn?t as intimidating as I?d expected, but it was certainly more advanced and more tiring than class. We did a few warm-ups, and then spent the rest of the session doing scenes and games. I made myself step up and do as many as possible, even when I?d never heard of the game before. I learned a huge amount, and had a ton of fun. Working with much more experienced improvisers forced me to push myself much further than I did in class. Only a few minutes in, I could tell that this was a great way for me to improve my skills.

Since that first time, I?ve been going to Playground every week. A few more of my classmates have joined me, but it?s still overwhelmingly weighted toward more experienced folks. I like it that way ? that?s a lot of what makes it different from class, and that?s what helps me learn so much there. I now think Playground is just as important as the regular classes. And one of the best things is that Playground keeps running even when classes are on hiatus, so I can keep my skills sharp over break. It?s a win-win-win situation!

With that, I conclude my ?beginning improv? blog series. If you?ve ever considered taking improv, I hope this has helped you understand what a great thing it is. If you?re already doing improv, perhaps you get some joy from seeing it through fresh eyes again. And if you take nothing else away from all this, remember: ?JUST DO IT!?

Even though the series has ended, I?m sure I?ll blog a lot more about improv stuff in the future. If you?re not sick of hearing about it yet, you probably will be in a month or two.

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