It has been quite the journey coaching improv at the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry. This year, we decided to compete in the Canadian Improv Games (CIG).
My experience and ideas of improv differed from CIG expectations. From my experience as a street performer and clown, improv means that you cannot prepare. Obviously, you can prepare in terms of practicing over and over – developing a repertoire and being able to pull out certain jokes, voices, etc when the moment calls for it. What I did not expect, was that teams could actually structure their events and then just plug in a suggestion from the audience. This rattled the team during the exhibition round and they threw everything they knew out the window and did not perform to the best of their abilities.
After a debriefing, we decided to continue with not preparing and focus on really being spontaneous and in the moment. During the next competition, they did much better.
We made it to the semi finals and the team did a mighty job of entertaining the audience getting the largest laughs of the evening. The judges did not like us all that much, but the crowd was 100% behind our improv. Indeed, one of the moms there was calling one of the kids her spirit animal. The crowd was chanting P-S-I-I, P-S-I-I…
What truly matters is that this team went through an intense bonding and learning experience. I can see noticeable improvement in all of them as they had to move beyond their comfort zones and rise to the occasion. As a producer, I love seeing a team collaborate together and build original work that people thoroughly enjoy. In the process, I too have learned much more on how to coach performance art.
I believe that improv is a skill that crosses all occupations and industries. I cannot think of better chops to leave high school with than being able to think on the spot, persuade people, listen to others, and create original ideas.