Why Everything You’ve Learned Makes You a Worse Improviser

Adults are generally good at one thing: Repeating patterns.

We spend our whole lives learning what patterns “work.”  You learn that eating vegetables and exercising helps you lose weight.  You learn how to drive a car from Point A to Point B.  You can follow the directions of a recipe.  You can read a map.

Adults also repeat faulty patterns.  We date the same kinds of toxic people.  We develop unhealthy habits.  We fall back on things that feel good, but aren’t necessarily good for us.

To succeed in improv (whatever that means), there will be times we use that adult part of our brains.  We will follow a pattern because we’ve had success with that kind of scene before.  We will instinctively help lift a teammate trying to fly because that’s what we’re taught.  When two people sit down at a restaurant, it seems like some sort of improv law that a waiter will show up.  (Why does no restaurant scene begin in the middle or end of the meal?)

I’m convinced we’re shooting ourselves in the foot here.

Scope this article from LifeHacker about “Beginner’s Luck.”  It suggests that a novice can overtake a master because they haven’t been preconditioned to think a certain way.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.  — Badass Buddhist Monk

I know I walk into so many scenes thinking, “I’m going to play this kind of character or set up this kind of scenario.”  And so often, I walk off the stage thinking, “What the hell just happened?”  I’ve been studying improv for the better part of a decade.  Shouldn’t I be immune to that?  Or have I let myself take all the lessons too deeply to heart?  Am I now just a robot spitting back variations on clichéd scenes?

“You must unlearn what you have learned.” — Badass Yoda

Tell a kid to play.  What does he do?  Whatever he wants.  Now, tell an adult to play.  He’ll ask you why.  He’ll ask you what you want him to do.  He’ll ask you what the rules are.  That’s how we’ve been conditioned to think.  We’ve become so terrified of failure that we virtually eliminate the possibility of success.

Silly Putty was a mistake.  Potato chips were created as an act of revenge.  Post-It Notes were the result of a failure.  More than likely, our greatest inventions came from someone thinking, “What if…?”  But your bosses are more likely to stick you in a room and say, “Come up with a solution to this problem.”  Chances are, they’re not looking for an idea with no track record of success.  They’re ignoring that such an original idea also has no track record for failure.

Most businesses, despite being founded on a creative idea, are absolutely frightened of creativity.  It represents the possibility of loss.  It’s also the only way to survive, but that gets overlooked.

This article from “Psychology Today” talks about the childlike nature of genius, specifically Picasso.

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” — Badass Pablo Picasso

Spend enough time around kids and you’ll hear the same question repeated over and over: “Why?”  Spend enough time around those kids’ parents and you’ll see them become exhausted with the question.  Eventually the answer becomes “Because.”  (In Spanish, the words for “why” and “because” are virtually the same – “Por qué” and “porque.”)

“Because” is not an answer to anything.  It’s a dead-end to thinking.  Ask a child why the sky is blue and no two children will answer the same way.  Ask an adult and they’ll either shrug their shoulders or toss off a scientific explanation.  Which is more fun to listen to?

I don’t argue about the necessity for classes in improv.  One should be well-versed in its history and forms and heroes.  But we don’t really take the next step until we strike out on our own path, think our own way and start behaving like children.

Hell, Del Close started teaching long-form improv on the notion that people would enjoy watching creation as much as a polished sketch show created using the same process.  What’s the next evolution of this artform?  Probably some kid who’s seen everything up until now and sees something the rest of us can’t.  Let’s hope he can ignore his training long enough to follow his heart.


2 responses to “Why Everything You’ve Learned Makes You a Worse Improviser

  1. Interesting way to tie improv into real life.

  2. Pingback: Current Stoke

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