Say it with me: “I. Feel. Great. YES!” On Fridays in the Main Library’s Teen Department, this is how we start off Shenanigans, a program of games and activities based on improv. To gear ourselves up for an hour of silliness and “shenanigans,” we all rub our hands together and shout the phrase together three times.
Although improv might not be guaranteed to make you “feel great,” it is scientifically proven to lower your inhibitions and increase your self-expression. (Check out this Ted Talk from neurosurgeon Charles Limb, “Your Brain on Improv” ) And according to Tina Fey’s book, Bossypants, improv has some other amazing real-world applications and benefits, like reducing belly fat.*
So, in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and self-improvement, here are some life and improv tips from my experience as a thespian and from Saturday Night Live’s own Tina Fey:
The most basic and best known improv tip is to say “yes, and.” Basically, it means you agree with your scene partner and then add something of your own. In improv, you have to accept the premise that your partner is creating, no matter how ridiculous. Say “yes.” Be like Jim Carrey in Yes Man (but, you know, without all the disastrous plot hurdles). No one wants to participate in a scene with someone who shoots down all their ideas and denies all their statements, just like no one wants to hang out with the guy who shoots down all the activities or restaurants you suggest and doesn’t come up with any ideas of his own. Don’t be that guy.
But just showing up and agreeing to the premise is the bare minimum; next you need to add something of value. If your scene partner said “Do you want to come see my collection of exotic taxidermied animals?” you could just say “Sure,” or you could say, “Sure, I’ll stop by on my way to the World Taxidermy Expose. Can I bring my platypus, Dave?” Which scene sounds more interesting? Would you rather be someone who adds value, or someone who does the bare minimum?
The next tip is to make statements. As Tina Fey says, “this is a positive way of saying ‘Don’t ask questions all the time.'” Being the person who asks all the questions is like being the person who just says “yes” without the “and”–you’re forcing your partner to make all the contributions to the scene without adding any value yourself. If you have to ask questions, do it in a way that does add information. For example, instead of saying, “Where are we?” try saying, “Wait a minute, isn’t this the lake that you drove my car into last year?”
Our third improv tip might sound a bit like a Bob Ross painting lesson: “THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.” It’s a pretty natural reaction to want to correct someone who starts taking your life or your acting scene in a direction you didn’t plan for it to go. But as Tina Fey explains, “If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I’m a hamster in a hamster wheel. I’m not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike.” If you make a mistake, be kind to yourself and try to roll with it. If someone else makes a mistake, look at it as an opportunity to grow. You’ll feel better about your day to day life if you can roll with the punches, and a bonus? You’ll make a lot more friends if you can transform others’ mistakes into opportunities!
*Upon reading further, I’ve been informed by Tina Fey’s footnote that in fact, “improv will not reduce belly fat.”
Guest Blog by Katie Gurino