After re-starting improv training in Cambridge despite having already been through a fair chunk of training at Second City a few years ago, this second consideration of the “Rules of Improv” made me realize how said rules can be applied as a guide to life, especially in a new city (which is, ostensibly, what this blog is about). You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Below is the third and final installment.
Rule number 3: Make statements. At the end of our last class before Sad Hooker’s** March show, my cast-mate declared, “I’ve figured out THE SECRET! To life! No, I mean to improv!” (Pause for dramatic effect.) “If you go into a scene with a strong emotion about the other person, it’s all way easier!”
“YES! Exactly!” responded our teacher, with the tone of voice you would expect from someone who had been saying “figure out how you feel about this person” over and over for the past eight weeks and was pretty sure we were all catching on but was nonetheless thrilled that someone had finally acknowledged her teachings, even if in the most indirect way.
And they’re right. Deciding how you feel about the other people before you start a scene is “the secret of improv” because it allows you to easily adhere to the third rule: Don’t ask questions. Make statements.
This seems like it should be obvious, but when you’re on a stage with zero script and nary an audience suggestion, and you’re just staring at your scene partner, blinking under the unbelievably hot lights, it’s tempting (bordering on reflexive) to ask something like, “What are you doing?” Stop. Don’t. Asking a question is not contributing – not to the scene, not to your partner, not to the characters’ relationship. Making the decision about how you feel ahead of time AT LEAST allows you to blurt out something like, “I hate your toes, Jerry!” and get the scene moving. Asking questions gets your scene nowhere fast.
This is all applicable in the real world. When you live somewhere new and are meeting new people, it’s important to always decide how you feel about them before you’ve spoken to them. It’s also important to never ask questions about anything, because you already know everything about everything and I AM KIDDING. DON’T be prejudiced and DO be inquisitive, folks.
But while the theories and practices behind this rule of improv are pretty much only good for when you’re improvising scenes, the main idea behind “make statements” is to feel confident in whatever it is you’re doing, or at least feel confident enough to start. Often in life, if you start with a question, you’ll wind up with 1,000 more questions. You kind of dig yourself a hole. But if you start with a statement, you have something to build on.
Confidence is what’s behind all of these rules (yes, yes and, make statements). Whether you’re on a stage or living your life doesn’t matter. All the world’s a stage, anyway (thanks, Shakespeare), so applying the rules of improv to whatever you do – a new scene, new friendships, a new position or project at work, a new relationship (or an established relationship), a new hobby, a move to a new town – will infuse confidence and help you, hopefully, find success. And help you lose belly fat*!
*Once more for the cheap seats – Improv will not help you lose belly fat. Not directly, anyway.
**That’s our group’s name now. Keeps audience expectations at bay.