Improvising is not performing

Technically pretty much anything can be improvised. Beethoven was famous for improvising on the piano. In this post we’ll use ‘improvising’ to mean theatrical improv. What we do. Which some of us take on stage. So some of us perform improv. But improv is not performing.

In an improvisation exercise it doesn’t matter if you can be seen by someone sitting twenty feet away. In a group session it doesn’t matter if you can be heard by someone sitting fifty feet away. It doesn’t matter.

It does matter if you’re performing. Add an audience and it does matter if you can be seen, if you can be heard. It matters if your accents are recognisable, your characters vivid; it matters that your scenes have flow and purpose.

Without an audience none of that matters at all.

So it’s useful to remind ourselves of what does matter in improv itself. It’s a subjective question, thank you for asking me for my opinion and since you insist:

My opinion (drumroll please):

It matters that you walk away from a class with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. That you have worked your imagination. That you have worked together, to the benefit of each other. Improv (and I will repeat this ad nauseam) is not a game for egos. Be generous, be insanely generous. Walk into an exercise knowing that everyone’s got your back and you’ve got theirs’ or why in Hell’s name are you doing it?

It matters that you practice (and eventually achieve) imaginative flow, because that imaginative flow can then be taken and used in every aspect of your life. There are people in improv classes who will never step foot on a stage and don’t want to. But they will communicate every day. They will problem solve every day, and improv can help with that. So can performance skills, if you need to communicate with someone fifty feet away. But they’re not the same thing.

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