Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson

Improv Wisdom

RATING: 8/10…READ: October 1, 2013

Improv wisdom takes the fundamentals of improv and applies those fundamentals to everyday life. A book that moves away from the 3,5, 10 year plan and helps readjust you to just going with the flow and taking positive actions without knowing where they are going to lead.

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The practice of improvisation (in contrast, say, to that of writing or painting) teaches something that we are hungry to understand: how to be in harmony with one another and how to have fun. We practice improvisation not only to “express ourselves” but to connect with others in a more immediate way.

“Always say yes if someone asks for help and you can give it,” I vowed. I admit a selfish motive in adopting this rule at that time, but the maxim has become a great teacher. Who benefits as we say yes to life? Notice.

“Confidence follows success” is what I have learned.

Performance anxiety comes from excessive self-focus. “Everyone is looking at me. I am not good enough. What if I fail? What will everyone think of me if I make a mistake?” The ego takes the stage and holds court. This line of thinking is misguided, anyway. They want you to succeed, to do well. Rarely are you being judged. It is more likely that they are cheering for you and tolerant of mistakes or miscues.

Three great lessons here—practice your art every day, lower your standards, and claim a time or place or an attitude that will challenge your bourgeois idea of reality.

“The real voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes,” said Marcel Proust.

Consider ordinary gifts. Looking for a gift for a friend or loved one? Think of items that you use every day (a pillow for the bed, a cereal bowl, a teacup, a towel, a pen, a clock, bedroom slippers, a blanket, a sharp kitchen knife, a calendar, good coffee). Keep lists of useful everyday objects for help in choosing a good gift.

Instead of asking, “What do I feel like doing?” substitute “What is my purpose now?” The difference in the answer may be illuminating. We have become a culture in which “How do you feel?” is the most commonly asked question (by therapists, doctors, news reporters, etc.), as if our emotions were the most important thing in life. This is odd, since feelings are fleeting and temporal and certainly not always the wisest basis for our actions. Most definitions of the word “purpose” suggest a moral component. It can be seen as “the proper activity” for a person or “the right thing to be doing.” It always implies conscious intention. Answering this question provides direction.

The essence of improvisation is action—doing it in real time. We act in order to discover what comes next.

For the improviser it is: ready, fire, aim.

Are your friendships based solely on supportive talk? Why not strengthen the bonds through action? Relationships grow when we do useful things together. Be the instigator.

Each of us has different things to give, he points out, and what we see as a gift is an individual matter. “Some of us have spare time; others have surplus mental or physical energy; others have a special art, skill, or talent; still others have ideas, imagination, the ability to organize, the gift of leadership.”

Enjoyment is a way of approaching an activity, not the activity itself. I have a friend who can turn a trip to Disneyland into work with her obsessive need to see and do everything in an orderly fashion. On the other hand, cleaning out the attic or garage can be a playful activity, if you turn on your favorite upbeat music and dance your way into cobwebs, stopping to take pleasure in the odd treasures lurking there.

I sometimes hear complaints from adult students that their jobs aren’t creative or rewarding. I wonder. Joy seems not so much dependent on the conditions of our external reality as it is on our way of looking at life. We apportion value. It is not intrinsic. The waitress was finding joy in her work, making sandwiches and serving them to guests. She did not demand that the job “be joyful.”