Improv can bring confidence and creativity into your life

Back in 2012, I went to my first improv comedy show. Struggling with taking myself too seriously, I wanted to see if it could help me eliminate my “Debbie Downer” attitude. (And yes, I despise that phrase.) The result? I instantly laughed and realized that I wanted to laugh even more. So I started attending monthly shows.

Over the years, I became a super fan of The Oxymorons, the improv troupe in Central Pennsylvania that performed nationwide. I started to get to know the improv community troops and their members over the years. There was the all-female troupe, No Artificial Sweeteners, which hosted shows for charity, Safe Word, which usually hosted laughs served with wine, and TMI at Gamut Theatre.

In 2015, I decided to try improv for myself. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, so I signed up for a beginner’s class at the Harrisburg Improv Theatre (HIT). My first experience was scary to say the least. But as I learned more about it, I found it was so helpful to get out of my own head and step into my body — something I’d never done before.

Improv is accepting what is presented, without judgment, and offering up something in return. A goal for improv is creating and inspiring fellow stage performers to buy into whatever story, event, or tale is shared and bring their own ideas, all while an audience watches and tries to follow the scene, which has no clear storyline, plot, or ending. It only happens once, and never is repeated again; it’s magic. (Okay, not always, but sometimes.)

Over time my confidence grew in life and on the stage. Six years after that first class, I signed up for a Level 2 class. A year later, I went way out of my comfort zone and registered for Level 3. At the time, I’d been building relationships within the improv community in Harrisburg. It was like nothing I’d experienced, at least for most of my adult life. I instantly felt welcomed. I also felt included, a sensation I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

The reason I felt welcomed was because I’d been invited to participate and accepted as I am, without being required to change myself. Anyone can attend a show or take a class, but this community provided a path to follow. Not only that, but leaders in each class guided me to participate and engage further. After class, community members went to dinner and had a great meal together.

Standing on stage is still scary, but I’m learning to laugh at myself and not take things so seriously. That phrase “Yes, And…” is so profound to me because just stopping is hard; I’m so used to responding. So slow down and ACCEPT what someone says before adding something. I think we often respond with our own experience instead of acknowledging the other person’s comments, ideas, or thoughts. It is a fantastic opportunity for me to let go of my attitude and just BE PRESENT. It means I need to LISTEN to what that person is saying to be able to offer something in response. And I LOVE that.

Improv helps improve your mood

Not only can improv help with confidence, but it can also help with anxiety, depression, and social anxiety, which has increased since the pandemic. An article by Psychology Today shares recent research that brain-scan studies show improv activates creative brain centers and helps with brain connectivity. In addition, improv helps boost creativity and confidence while decreasing stress and anxiety.

A recent Journal of Marketing Education stated that improv has positive experiences in group collaboration, self-efficacy, and divergent thinking. “Indeed, being able to be “in the moment” and to react instantaneously demands a different kind of training and education than the slower paced, carefully constructed, and casually timed marketing campaigns of yesterday.”

It is helpful to clarify that how we live, work, and experience the world is vastly different from just 10 years ago, and with that comes complex challenges that we are still identifying and coping with daily.

The challenge is that most of our culture tries to solve current problems with past solutions that don’t work in the current environment. In a world where marketing and advertising base campaigns on selling products to people that didn’t know they “needed” something until they watched ads and started to question their own choices in life.

“Improvisational comedy and its tenets — agreement (“Yes, and . . . ”); be you (and know that you are enough); make bold, unexpected choices — require a comparable, in-the-moment mindset that encourages group collaboration, positive self-efficacy, and the ability to generate creative ideas without hesitation,” the report highlighted.

As individuals, we are taught right and wrong, good and bad, right and left — but what if there could be both left and right and left again? That’s more realistic than saying what is left and right — when you leave out what’s behind you and in front of you — or slightly to one direction, that’s perspective.

Each individual comes from a different place, with different childhood experiences, life experiences, and levels of emotional intelligence. As we continue to evolve as a society, improv will become a more critical element in our daily lives. It can help pull us out of the all-or-nothing thinking process and put us into the creative mode — what’s possible? If this is true, then what else is true?

Harrisburg Improv Theatre at Improv in the Woods (More photos)

Improv in the woods:
Fire, friends, and food (lots of food)

Last weekend I joined my fellow improvisers at Gifford Pinchot State Park’s campground for our second HIT Into the Woods annual improv camp. Last year we had such a blast that we decided to do it again — despite the weather reports, we lucked out and stayed dry most of the weekend.

The event was sparked in 2022 when a friend of mine, Susan, suggested camping and improv when I mentioned that I’d been camping many times. This year Susan had a menu that included chili and cornbread, hotdogs and hamburgers, grilled vegetables, and camping meat pies with a pie iron.

What was remarkable was the camp worked out a time and announced a performance to the campers for Saturday at 7, and for a few fantastic audience members, the troop shared improv in the woods. The weekend was relaxing, and meeting new people was always fun and exciting. I’d love to go to an improv camp and practice more than we did, so I found an improv camp with a few locations. Check it out if this sparked your interest.

Enjoy your summer safely, and try out Yes… and…

View more photos from the improv camp here.

One podcast episode I recently enjoyed: The Pirate Life Podcast Word Game

Music I’m listening to Cake, Never There

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Deb Schell, Author and Community Strategist

Community Strategist, Author, Podcaster, Designer. Find Calm Here, where community strategy meets intentionality.