Many of the Master’s of Arts Management candidates managed, created or performed art in some way before they came to Columbia College Chicago; many of them still do. I certainly love to create in a multitude of ways; my current passion in the performing arts is improvisational theatre. I love the experience of creating something from nothing by having an ultimate level of trust in the people that you perform with. Creating in the moment, by fully affirming and supporting the theatrical choices that your scene partners make, is like flying. Here are just some of the reasons that I love improvisation as an art form, and respect it in every discipline…
Viola Spolin, is generally considered to be the mother of theatrical improvisation, her book “Improvisation for the Theater,” which I highly recommend to anyone and everyone, is not only a masterpiece of writing, it is an instruction manual for teaching anyone anything through present moment experience.
“We learn through experience and experiencing, and no one teaches anyone anything. This is as true for the infant moving from kicking to crawling to walking as it is for the scientist with his equations. If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn; and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach.” -Viola Spolin “Improvisation for the Theater”
It is this attitude that makes improvisation vital to the arts, education, business, science, and daily living. Daily living is, after all, an improvisation. Stephen Colbert who performed at Second City and wrote for The Daily Show before becoming a landmark of television with the Colbert Report, has this to say about improvisation:
“Now there are very few rules to improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully to them you’re the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading, you’re all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win improv. And life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next, and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life… In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love, because, as the prophet says, service is love made visible.”–Stephen Colbert, Northwestern University Commencement Speech
Striving for the elimination of ego, and supporting everyone around you to the fullest extent possible is not just good advice for improv performance, it’s good advice in life. It’s good advice in performance because often time when a scene or set is really flying, it’s because the actors’ egos have been subsumed by the purpose of the set itself. It’s a nearly zen like experience. Similarly, having such an attitude in life will probably make you successful, popular and humble. After all, look at Stephen Colbert.
And to top it all off, Improv is just fun. Just a ton of irrefutable, uninhibited fun. For the performers, an improv set at it’s worst is pretty good, and at it’s best is mind-blowing. For the audience the whole thing is like an extended magic trick when done well. You’ve convinced the audience at the beginning of the performance that your creation, be it theatre, music, comedy, visual art, dance, or anything else that you might be able to improvise (which I would argue is everything). You’ve convinced them that your creation is being discovered in that very moment by both the performers and the audience.
You are together experiencing something that will never be seen again, and has never been seen before. And by the end of it, if you’ve done your job incredibly well, the audience might even think that you had written every moment of it. The beauty is that you haven’t written or predetermined anything you experienced together as performers and audience. “…life is an improvisation,” and if we do it well, and we’re lucky, it’ll feel like flying.