Walking to my car this morning, I noticed a flurry of activity in the middle of the driveway. A cicada was on his back (her back, their back, zeir back), losing a fight against 50 or so ants. As I pondered this poetic battle of nature, a thought crossed my mind: “Too bad he doesn't have any improv friends to help him out. If he had attended the five levels of improv comedy classes taught at the Dallas Comedy House, things would have gone differently.”
He wouldn't have been alone, for starters. I can say that with such confidence because I’ve gone through four levels, and I have a group of really amazing people to show for it. They accumulate around you like…like hungry ants. That makes sense, in retrospect. After all, we’ve been taught to support (and like each other) since day one. Without those key elements, entertaining and/or otherwise solid scenes simply do not happen. It's like trying to focus a camera when the camera parts don't fit. The gears don't mesh, and the story comes out fuzzy and uninteresting.
So to take a clear and ideally comedic photograph, improvisers develop wonderful habits that bleed into their life outside of comedy. They become better listeners, and they learn to find the value in everything that they hear. When they listen, they also respond constructively and positively. And—who would have guessed it—when Person A demonstrates that they want to listen to Person B, Person B realizes that they love hanging out with Person A, and Person A seems like an all-around solid dude and wouldn’t it be great to go catch the game with that guy? It makes sense that people want to be friends with those that support each other. I bet that cicada wishes he had some support. But he doesn’t. He’s being eaten alive.
Friendship blossoms in spades for the additional reason that improvisers, on principle, build each other up by virtue of being accepting. I know for a fact that my scene partners will accept what I say and highlight the value in whatever goofy thing I want to do. In general, by the time students get out of an improv program, they will have done thousands upon thousands of scenes together, demonstrating through their actions that they love one another. If that cicada had been told for months that his ideas were valid and that his presence mattered, you know what he would have done? He would have kicked some ant thorax! Imagine how hard it is to gnaw into a carapace when that carapace’s owner loves himself. I know I couldn't do it.
But alas, our cicada chap had no improv friends to build him up, or to help him remember that his opinions mattered and he was a good bug. He did not have experience on stage in front of crowds or the confidence to smooth over conflict and find fun no matter the situation. He was just himself—his lonely, now definitely expired, cicada self.
The Moral: Improv is a beautiful artistic endeavor based on tenets of trust, support, mindfulness, and joy that empowers its participants and produces better human beings.
Emily Baudot is a Level Five improv student. When she isn’t at the theater, she’s drinking at one of the bars down the street and trying to justify ordering dessert for dinner. Or, she’s on her computer pretending she’s a banished orc maiden, whichever one sounds healthier to you. If her crippling addiction to sugar and caffeine doesn’t kill her, she can be seen on stage with the soon to be world famous Wild Strawberry and the already-Internet famous Wiki-Tikki-Tabby (just kidding, they do go online a lot though). She’s also a Pisces because that means something.