Get Your Improv On

Many years ago, I took some acting classes at the local adult school. Some of us found out about an improv workshop that was being held at a local theater, and since I loved Whose Line Is It Anyway, I went, and learned that there are three rules of improv (at least according to our particular instructor):

1. Say “Yes, and”

2. Listen

3. Make your partner look good

They make a lot of sense. Saying “no” leaves you with nowhere to go, so you have to run with what you’re given. Making your partner look bad does the same thing. And if you don’t listen, you’re doomed before you even start.

Tina Fey has talked about how “Yes, and” are words to live by for her. They led her to a new job, among other things—even when she wasn’t sure she was ready for it. Embracing the adventure got her where she is.

A year ago in July, I embarked on my own adventure. I went to the International Pinot Noir Celebration. A dear, wise friend convinced me go despite my initial reservations (the cost, knowing pretty much nothing about wine), because it looked like such a fabulous party. And I decided to go on my own.

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Unconsciously, I operated by the three rules of improv. I decided that I was going to taste absolutely everything that was put in front of me. There was no requirement to have more if I didn’t like it, but I had to try it before making that decision. I stopped after one raw oyster, because I felt like I’d just swallowed the Pacific Ocean, but it turned out that I liked quail. I also tried every wine that was put in front of me (and believe me, that was a lot of wine). Saying “Yes, and” to everything meant I missed nothing.

I listened to everything and everyone. Advice for getting through the weekend (“Do not finish every glass that’s put in front of you or you will not make it to lunch,” was key). The people around me as I made new friends. The presentation on how the bubbles get into champagne, which was absolutely fascinating. I also “listened” by watching what others did and learning from that as well. The result? I learned a lot in three days, and also mostly managed to blend into the crowd rather than looking like the clueless soul I knew I was.

I made my partner look good, too. My partner was me, but I was on my own for a reason. I wanted to eliminate the possibility of hiding in someone’s shadow rather than getting to know people. It worked. I also dressed for dinner every night, just because I could. I introduced myself to some really interesting people. I even walked right up to a movie star and struck up a conversation twice before the weekend was over. (Turns out I took all the audacity on this trip!) When you make your partner look good, you look good, too. Bonus!

The result of all this unintentional improv was one amazing, life-changing experience. I got to see myself in such a different light—so much more brave, adventurous, open, and friendly than I think I am day to day. I took a risk and I ran with everything that came as part of it. It could have blown up in my face (and the headache I had overnight the first night came close!), but mostly, it was an astonishing, worthwhile trip. The risk led to real reward.

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