First of all, the brain is an improv machine. Well, ok, it’s sort of passé to use the metaphor of machine for the brain now that we’re in the 21st century, so let’s just say, the brain is a very spontaneous thing, constantly registering and reacting to the environmental data that bombards our person from the moment we awaken in the morning to the moment we awaken the next morning.
But if there’s one thing I know about improvisational comedy, it’s that I know nothing about improv. Well, that’s not exactly true either. A couple of days ago I decided to sign up for an improv Meetup near my home outside of Philadelphia. So I did, and I went to my first ever Meetup to begin my new career as an improv comedian. In describing myself to the group of 4 adults and one 8 year old, I suggested that I used to do improv when I was 8 but took about 40 years off.
I really wasn’t lying because I remember distinctly my early days of standup and improv in my third grade classroom. My jokes were spur of the moment and based upon the dialogue (or monologue) going on at the time. The funnier the jokes, the more the children laughed, the more chaos I created, the more trouble befell me. Hey, it was worth it. I was a masochistic class clown, willing to suffer the pain for the pleasure of the moment. I prayed at the alter of hilarity. I was a neuro-daredevil, seeking comic relief in the dungeons and canyons of authoritarian rigor, ever at odds with conformity enforcement, treading a razor thin edge between quiet tolerance, forgiveness and banishment to the principal’s office. So you see, this is how my improv career began and ended in third grade (well, it didn’t really end in third grade but it slowly degraded over the years until there were no classrooms left to disrupt, no spontaneous gaps in thought in which to insert unexpected punchlines, no forgiving teachers, only unamused professors or intolerant bosses). I was supposed to mature . . . and so I did, more or less; and the spontaneity of life abated.
So much can be said about improv, so much can be said before I’ve even taken my second class. In fact, I was thinking about the act of writing a blog about improv and I was thinking that writing itself is really improv. You see, no one sits down to write a blog or a story or a book and has the entire thing in his/her head just waiting to get out onto the paper. Writing is the journey, the evolution, the discovery and the creation of the story, the book, the blog. Tying the end to the beginning happens spontaneously but the end cannot be foreseen until it is stumbled upon. Here I am in the middle of this first entry, there are many things that I will or could describe, the neuroscience of spontaneous thought, the Zen nature of the empty mind and how it relates to improvisational creativity, creativity itself and how it manifests in comedic theatre, etc., etc., etc., (someone once told me that writing etc. more than once is redundant, but I think redundancy is funny, especially when you do it over and over).
So where was I? Oh yea, the possibilities for writing about improv are endless; so that’s why I’m writing this blog. I want to record the journey of my discovery. I want to try to explain what I think I know about improv and how it relates to the brain, Zen Buddhism, creativity, other art forms, social psychology, comedy, nonlinear mathematics and a bunch of other stuff. Then I want to just do it and see what I discover, see what insight I have, see what it teaches me about myself and about others.
Before I opened the door to the apartment where the Meetup was held, I was anticipating what might occur. There might be a sort of an “introduce yourself” period where people go around the room and talk about themselves and why they signed up for the Meetup. I was thinking that I might be asked “Why did you sign up for the Improv Meetup?” or “What do you want to get out of the Meetup?” So I put a little thought into this and I decided that my answer would be, “I signed up to learn.” You see, after I had thought about all of the other possible reasons I might give, the one that made the most wholistic sense to me was the fact that I chose Improv in order to learn. I want to learn about this art form and I want to learn about what it does to the mind when one practices this art form. I want to learn how to do improv better and I want to experience the improvement that comes with practice. You see, for some reason, I believe that improv is truly the essence of humanity. Sure, sometimes it’s funny, but that’s a particular genre, I believe (and one that I’m certainly attracted to). But improv can also be dramatic, sad, angry, esoteric. And improv can also be competitive. And improv is also a generic term for what we all do every day of our lives: we “improvise.” Whether we are working, cooking, playing, or engaging in mundane activities, there are infinite ways in which we improvise every day to solve problems, deal with situations, engage other human beings. We guesstimate, we anticipate, we predict. That’s what the brain does. When we are children, we have fewer limitations, we act and we react and we are spontaneous. We are creative and we talk and we listen and we respond and we engage and we dance in a cosmic dance with each other and with the universe. As we age, we curb our thoughts and our tongue. We parse our words, we watch our step, we learn from harsh lessons and painful feedback. We become less spontaneous and less willing to take risk. We know that certain actions will beget equal and opposite reactions. So we are careful. In some ways this is valuable; it allows us to function in a peaceful, modern society. In other ways it’s constraining and limits our growth and our potential. We need to strike a balance and my balanceometer led me to improv as a way to break out of the box, so to speak, as a way to find a place to let go and to explore. You see, for me, it’s about exploration. I’m an explorer; and along this journey of life I seek to find treasure. Many of the treasures I seek are what you might call “insights” or “aha moments.” I call them neural connections. I seek neural connections that shed light on an area of unexplained relationships, neuro-psychological relationships, nonlinear mathematical relationships, socio-political relationships, Zen Buddhist philosophies as they relate to neuro-socio and neuro-psychological relationships, etc., etc., etc.
So that’s it for now, I guess. This is just a beginning. Later we’ll continue to explore more about what we know about the brain, Zen Buddhism and nonlinear mathematics. And when we achieve new insights, we’ll try to relate them to what we know and suggest what they might reveal. In the end, we’ll have an accounting of a journey of discovery that may lead a reader to make new discoveries of her own. Constantly evolving we are, constantly learning, constantly growing, constantly adapting, constantly improvising. I hope you join me on this journey into “Improv.”
Thank you : )