Improv is magic

February 01 2015

I'm passionate about a lot of things; music (I'm a classical/contemporary clarinet and bass clarinet player by trade), acting, writing, cooking, the environment, teaching, etc, but for me there is a unifying theory to be found in improv. Improvising music and movement has made me a better and more confident performer, but improvising theatre has made me a better and more confident person.

Theatre improv (think "whose line" or UCB) has within it all of the basic elements that you need to be a good and successful person. You know the ones- saying yes and supporting ideas, always having people's backs, paying attention (really paying attention), finding what's working and doing it again and again, being brave enough to burst into song or dance, or just get up in front of people and feel comfortable and even excited speaking. All of the things that a lot of us feel bad at, as if we somehow missed the all-important day in school where they taught everybody how to talk to each other and not be weird about it and we're never going to catch up because of it. I grew up shy and awkward, and improv has made me feel like a real and whole person- I'm happy on stage, I'm happy pushing my own ideas to a group, I'm happy making small talk with strangers, and I'm happy collaborating with artists from any discipline. It's a huge thing.

If you'd like to try something new, I highly recommend an improv course. You'll start with little, easy exercises- saying "yes and" to ideas, maybe playing games where you can only ask questions, alternate saying words with another person, tell a story collectively etc. They all seem little, but they add up to something big, and you'll be amazed at the high you get when it goes well. You'll find yourself responding without censoring yourself, contributing ideas that you can't even remember having, and connecting to your classmates and the characters they create. You might also do some 'long form' things, like playing out scenes and linking them together- this is where the paying attention thing comes in handy! If a course sounds like a bit much, or you don't live near one, try this- say yes to everything (within reason), and then say "yes and"... add something! You'll have a much more positive day, I promise.

Lastly, if you're a performer of any kind- music, dance, anything, learn to improvise. Just do it. It doesn't matter what discipline you're in or whether you strictly need to be able to improvise (lots of classical musicians would wet themselves if you put them on stage and just said go), you'd be amazed what it can do for your practise. I love using improv (along with other tools) to make help fellow musicians and students feel more at home on stage, and play more expressively, and it can work for you too.

I'd love to hear from any improvising people out there, in any discipline, especially if you like to do interdisciplinary work.

Look out for my hilarious improv troupe, improvable (facebook / improvable), we've got some great gigs coming up in London and Edinburgh!

I teach clarinet and offer performance coaching to any instrument (or ensembles) in London UK- hit me up!

Stephen Davidson
[email protected]
London UK

p.s. My plan B for this email was to just send vegan cake recipes until I ran out of words. You can also email me for those :)

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