In the container of improv, anything can happen. Such are the very bones and basis of improvised comedy: it is made up entirely on the spot. Never before has this show been performed, never again shall it be revisited. The epitome of you-had-to-be-there experience, even the performers are unaware of what is about to occur between them when they step out on stage.
A typical improv show involves inviting a suggestion from the audience: an inspirational thought from which to run and with which to play for the duration of the improvisation. The performers display their tools of craft not by memorization and precision, but by demonstrating their prowess of being fully in the moment, of listening well and responding to that which is in front of and within them.
Improvised comedy is the practice of process, not of content.
The work is in the container-creation. Nurture this space of innovation and ideas, nurture the people bringing courage and creativity to it, nurture their playfulness. Nurture this space of cooperation and building together and supporting each other.
In this container, the performers say yes and build piece by piece. They tap out and walk on, participating in the elaborate scheme and story unfolding before everyone’s eyes. The scene grows until a zenith of laughter is reached, then along comes the edit, a new exploration of play ensues.
Housed in this space lies an abundance of trust. The performers trust each other to edit their scenes, to support them on stage, to say yes, to have their back, to believe in the situation established, to play along. Trust builds the container where the individuals come alive to themselves, their ideas, to the moment, and to each other.
It can be difficult to trust another, in improv or otherwise. It is tempting to control the entire process. In the process of control, rigidity replaces fluidity, life is squeezed out for predictability. In the container of improv we relinquish the practice of exerting control (over the other or the outcome) by embracing the practice of helping to co-create the container.
We are creating a container where people can grow, where bravery can be possible and practiced.
We are creating a container where courage and creativity are anticipated, meaning that we are preparing to learn something new, be surprised, challenged, impacted, and perhaps even inconvenienced or caught off guard.
While this may be uncomfortable, this space is crucial.
Give an employee the container in which to dream, imagine, and fail, and find a team player and capable leader who contributes to a nimble and innovative organization.
Give a child a container in which to safely explore, play, contribute, and share their ideas, and grow a human who knows how to love themselves and one another.
Give a friend the container in which to talk freely without being bombarded by advice or resistance, and discover a human who can find their way through difficulty, grief, and setback without losing their sense of self and resiliency.
Improv comedy is teaching us to nurture a container that is open enough to evolve, and disciplined enough to be sustainable; that is welcoming enough to hold diversity and appreciate harmony among differences; that is safe enough to see someone emerge and brave enough to invite their contribution.
Evey McKellar is a Level 3 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso.