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by Darren Held

Improv students frequently ask what they can do at home to “practice” improv between classes. I love that question! Honestly, two hours a week of improv isn’t really enough to build any momentum, and if there was a way to practice in between, that would be awesome. Unfortunately, most students don’t have my life… meaning that it’s unlikely that 100% of their friends are other improvisors who are always ready to play with them.

Fortunately, there are things you can do between classes to hone your improv skills. And the really fortunate thing is, by practicing your improv skills in real life, you’re getting better at regular stuff you do in real life. It’s win-win.

So what are the things you can do to practice improv when you’re not in an improv class? I’ma tell you right now. Sheesh. Patience, peeps.

  • Make eye contact – Really. Practice looking people in the eye, both when they are speaking and when you are. Notice what makes you flinch or look away and practice keeping your gaze steady even in those more difficult situations.
  • Listen – Actively pay attention when people are speaking to you. Don’t think about your response or your grocery list or anything. If it helps, switch from eye contact to watching their lips move. Sometimes watching the words helps you hear them, at least at first.
  • Accept others’ ideas – Our initial instinct is frequently to say, “No.” We can’t, the budget won’t allow, that’s ridiculous… there are a million ways to shoot down an idea, and we’re all super good at that. Try saying “yes” instead. Even if you can’t do whatever it is the other person is suggesting, accept their right to have the idea and acknowledge them for having it: “Yes, I totally see why you’d want to come to the office in your pajamas and it might increase productivity, as you suggest. We need to maintain a professional dress code on regular days, so I will see about instituting a ‘wear-what-you-want-day’ as a bonus or reward.” Unless you’re a stock broker or a fireman, it probably wouldn’t do much damage to work in pajamas once in a while.
  • Let go of your agenda – It’s tough, because we get used to thinking our way is the best way. In improv, you can’t force an agenda or you’ll tank your scene. Practice going with the flow in life. That doesn’t mean be a doormat; it simply means, maybe you don’t have to insist on Chipotle for lunch.
  • Don’t judge yourself (or others) – Don’t apologize for your opinions. Don’t apologize for the fact that you have opinions. Don’t second guess yourself. Don’t criticize everybody else, either.
  • Go big or go home – Don’t make half-assed attempts. Life’s short, and there is enough mediocrity in the world. If you want to do something, just fucking do it!

It’s difficult, I know. Improv will help with all of these skills… and practicing them outside, in the real world, will help with improv. There really is no difference between improv and real life, you know.

Except that in improv, everybody is always on your side. There’s that.

By Sonnjea Blackwell

Darren Held
About Darren Held
Darren is the CEO and Creative Director of Held2gether, Improv for LIfe. He has been teaching and performing improv for 15 years, and has performed with H2g, the Groundlings, UCB and Second City. He loves Moto, red wine, and Madonna.

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