Improv isn’t just a way of making theatre – it’s a way of life.
Here’s a summary of an entertaining TED Talk by improviser and storyteller Dave Morris. The ideas behind it are a simple way of understanding seven skills of improvisation and how you can apply them.
Improvisation isn’t a thing, it’s a process – a way of making things.
The skills of improvisation are the skills of life, because life is improvised.
Skill one – Play
Play is the idea of engaging in something just because you like it. It becomes work if you take it too seriously.
Play requires you to be present in the moment.
Skill two – Let yourself fail
This doesn’t mean that you must fail, but rather that you must allow yourself to fail. Failing is easy, but being okay with failing is difficult.
Fear of failure leads to failure, but failing does not make you a failure – improvisers simply start again when they fail.
Skill three – Listen
Most people only listen enough to be able to respond.
True listening is the willingness to change. If you are not willing to change based on what you hear, then you aren’t listening.
Improvisers get rid of their own agendas, listen with every part of themselves, and allow themselves to be changed by what they hear.
Skill four – Say ‘Yes’
A series of people saying ‘yes’ will lead somewhere. But, a series of people saying ‘no’ will not lead anywhere.
No matter how many people say ‘yes’, all it takes is one ‘no’ to stop everything – so say ‘yes’.
Skill five – Say ‘And’
Improvisers accept an idea and then add to it. This allows people to create something collaboratively that they would never be able to build on their own.
Don’t say ‘yes, but’, because that’s a contradiction – which is as bad as a ‘no’ – say ‘yes, and’.
Skill six – Play the Game
A game is any system of rules. Whenever you are following rules, you are playing a game.
Rules free improvisers up to improvise. By sticking to restrictions, improvisers channel their creative process into some kind of product.
Skill seven – Relax and have fun
If you relax and have fun when you use these skills, then you end up being better at playing, letting yourself fail, listening, saying ‘yes’, saying ‘and’, and playing the game.