This year I finally took the plunge into the wacky, wonderful world of improv.
I took all four of Shawn Westfall’s excellent classes at the DC Improv. I’ve been in three graduation shows, a DICSC show, and four shows with two troupes.
I can hold my own on stage, but I still don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not good. And I want to work hard on my own (in between practices and performances) to try to get good.
But here’s the thing: I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “work hard on your own to get good at improv.”
Solo artistic endeavors, like solo sports, generally have clear paths to go from having potential to being good. A marathoner can create specific training programs and follow the right diet. A painter can study and practice different techniques. Stand-up comedians and other comedy writers can write and watch and write and listen and write.
In a team sport or art, individuals obviously have to practice and perform with the team to reach their full potential. But a basketball player can get good in the meantime by studying the playbook, shooting 200 free throws a day, and working out. A violinist can get good between concerts by memorizing the score, playing for four hours a day, and doing violin-specific strengthening exercises.
What can improvisers do to get good on their own?
I’ll read Truth in Comedy and Mick Napier’s book. I’ll watch Asssscat videos and go to shows. I’ll continue practicing and performing with troupes.
But will that only go so far toward becoming a better improviser? When it comes to improving as a troupe — when we’re all trying to figure it out at the same time — it seems hard to make the kind of progress that comes in other team activities when everyone is also improving on their own.
Hopefully I’m just being impatient. With enough time — enough practices and performances — I hope I’ll reach the equivalent experience of a quarterback who sees the game slow down, as Mikael Johnson puts it.
In the meantime — help me out, improvisers: Are there things I can do outside of a group context to get there faster?
Go to a ton of shows, surround yourself with people who inspire you, try to refine your sense of humor. Reps, tons and tons of reps. Take an acting class, take a singing class, take a pottery class and push yourself to experience new things.