A Guest Post By Matthew Arisheh Falkenberg
What makes improv so hard to define is that it has a very broad range of applications. So your definition of improv can vary greatly depending on what you are using it for. Writers and musicians use improv to foster creativity. Actors use it to train themselves to be present in the moment. Business people use improv for team building. Standup comics use it to deal with hecklers. Lawyers use improv to interrogate witnesses. Heck, at least 90% of what you do every day is improvised. Thus, it can be difficult to draw the line between the art form and everyday life. I’ve taught many students who were only interest in using improv to help them get a date, get over a fear of public speaking, or be more comfortable in job interviews. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s draw a line at live improvised theatrical performances.
Over the last few decades, there has been explosive growth in the number of people getting on stage to improvise. Though the general public is still fairly unaware of it, improvisational theatre is the next big movement in the performing arts. In a self-perpetuating cycle, improv performances engage the uninitiated and transforms them into improvisers. For some, seeing great improv on stage starts an irreversible process. Once they become aware of the human mind’s true potential to spontaneously create, they’ll never be the same again.
I strongly believe improv, more specifically live improvised theatre, needs to be respected as its own art from. Modern improvised theatre has its own lineage. Luminaries such as Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, Keith Johnstone, and Del Close have continuously picked up the torch and expanded the art fom. Yet rather than taking the spotlight, improv has been humbly content to sit in the shadows of the professions that it has propelled to a new levels of greatness. For example, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Chris Farley, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi are just a few of the famous actors that studied improvisation at The Second City Theater, an institution that grew from the work of Viola Spolin and Paul Sills and was progressed even further by Del Close. How many other people gained the extra edge to be successful in their field by studying improv? I, for one, know the problem solving, communication and leadership skills I have strengthened through improv have made me a much better engineer.
When people have the confidence and skills to deal with the unexpected, they greatly enhance their capabilities no matter what goals they are striving to achieve. As the expansionary trend continues, the benefits of improv will necessitate that it be taught as part of the standard humanities curriculum in more and more schools. The core concept of “Yes, And” that drives the art form will continue to infiltrate minds across the globe.
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Matthew Arisheh Falkenberg started doing improv in 2001. His background includes serving as Production Manager of Let’s Try This!, Business Director of The Basement Theatre, and Managing Director of Jackpie Theatre Workshop. He is the founder and executive producer of the Black Box Comedy Festival, now in its tenth year. He produced weekly show and improv classes at Relapse Theatre before recently relocating from Atlanta to Austin. He currently performs at the
Hideout Theatre in Maestro and Fancy Pants shows. He specializes in teaching game-based, musical, and narrative improv and in applying improv principles towards making happier, healthier, more creative human beings.