Neophobia And Improv

Improvisation is scary.

I know that if I get up at 6:10 a.m., I can respond to texts and emails for five minutes, put on shoes and a sports bra in seven minutes, tie up my hair in two minutes and be out the door by 6:25 a.m. to get to the gym. I also know that I will have a spinach omelet for breakfast, I will listen to Ben Folds on my way to class, and that I will use my pink pen for any notes I take. I am a planner. I don’t like leaving things undecided. In improv, everything is undecided and that is thoroughly terrifying. 

 

As a theatre performance major, my first semester of college entailed an improv course. I dreaded it from the moment I saw it on my schedule. Walking to the first class, my body felt needlessly heavy, like a dumb paperweight. I yanked myself across the campus and into the theater. I clutched my elbows and bit my lower lip, nonchalantly, of course, awaiting what I thought would be the most embarrassing course I would ever take.

I loved it. I positively loved it. 

 

I thought improv was all about who had the sharpest arsenal of jokes and wasn’t afraid to bear their weapons. It is not, at all. Improv is about learning to respond honestly and quickly. Comedy isn’t just slyly worded and timed joke after joke after joke. Comedy is about truth. I may not have a mind that wields puns like a tennis ball machine at an all-access country club, but I did know how to be honest and that was more than enough.

 

Another thing I learned from this course was to stop fearing what the audience was thinking. In my daily life, I am bombarded by thoughts about how other people perceive me. Did I just laugh too loud? Do they think my hair is lacking volume today too? Penny is looking away from me, is this story boring everyone? Constantly thinking about what other people think of me is ridiculous and a pure waste of precious energy. I know that everyone does it to some degree, I know that we are brought up to consider these things and use them to try and act normal. Screw normal. In an improv scene, there’s no time to think about whether or not the girl in the third seat from the left in the fifth row will laugh at the line you are about to say, because by the time you think that, the moment has passed. You have to just go for it. Not only did learning this improve my improvisation, but it has also helped make me more genuine in everyday life.

 

I never wanted to take improv. If it was an elective, I would have avoided it like a person that messaged me and I forgot to reply to. I didn’t do improv all through high school if I replied to that message now, wouldn’t it just be awkward? 

 

Now, I am on one of VCU’s improv teams and I have my first show this week. Tell little, thick-eye-lined, high-school-me that I had a show in four days but there was no outline of the plot nor a script with any of my lines, I would have flipped. Now, I am so stoked for it, for the unforeseeable.

 

Improvisation is scary. However, sometimes scary is paramount to pushing you to become all you need to be. 

 

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