"I am one of those people who believe that improv really changes who you are, and how you approach your life and relationships," Anna, our improv teacher for the night, told us by way of introduction. What followed was two hours of games and exercises, as nine strangers stood in a circle to see where 'yes' would take us.
The Washington Improv Theater gives free workshops leading up to their regular sessions of classes, which cost $240 for eight weeks of 2 1/2 hour classes. The free class is a great way to decide if you want to invest in the full session, if you've ever been curious but scared to commit to learning the fundamentals, or if you just want to flex your funny bone. If you're shy or a ham, the small group setting and professional instruction will make you feel comfortable during what could be a pretty scary experience.
I was not in totally unfamiliar territory however. Those of you who have read this blog very carefully, or who have just known me a long, long time, may recall that in high school I did my fair share of improv. My high school theater program, which I remain grateful for even though I don't do a lick of theater in my adult life, really emphasized the skills of good improvising -- not just being funny, but being realistic, in the moment, accepting, open minded and empathetic. Having gone through the introductory two hours with WIT, I am pleased to report back that they stress those same skills, valuing experience and truth over the cheap and easy laugh.
Anna led us through a series of games and exercises, some tried and true ('freeze tag,' 'what are you doing?') and others that I'd never done before ('emotional four square'). Throughout the lesson, she highlighted the 'teachable moments,' picking out the things that worked best in certain scenes, and explaining the theories or techniques behind why they worked. We learned about mirroring of physicality and emotions, why patterns (and breaking them) are so darn funny, the importance of listening and accepting the realities as we created them on stage together. She was a great teacher, knowledgeable, approachable, friendly and quick to encourage making mistakes as part of the learning process.
We were also fortunate that the group itself was eerily good at improvising off the bat. Though by no means experts, we all worked together with the trust and openness of a troupe that knows each other intimately and has worked together a long time.
As part of my new year's resolutions to both save money and blog more, I will not signing up for the regular class session, but not because I didn't enjoy myself. It felt really great to remove that safety net and take the leap, to not know what was coming next and accept it as it came.