BY: MATTHEW BEARD
When I started high school, I was desperate to fit in. I wanted to be cool, smart, and avoid being a “dork” at all costs. When I discovered improv, I discovered a community built on embracing dorkiness and difference. It completely changed me for the better. Here's why:
1) Acceptance: Improv teaches you to embrace who you are
When you step into a circle of improvisers dancing and cheerfully singing camp songs, it’s not just “okay” to be different. It’s expected!
Why be someone else’s idea of “normal” when you can be a heartbroken pirate captain or a daring dolphin trainer? Why hold back everything you have inside of you, just to fit within some imaginary constructs?
Improv is a hands-on guide to embracing who you are. When young people are still discovering themselves, it is so important to embrace difference. The world is desperate for those willing to stand up and say, “This is who I am! Look at me!” A community of accepting improvisers having fun can make anyone feel this way.
2) Taking Risks: Improv is a social confidence superpower
Whether we like it or not, every single conversation is improvised. Any time we have a meaningful connection with another person, chances are it will be completely off-script.
As young people enter high school or college, we experience a thousand new social interactions, and are expected to come out the other side with lifelong friendships and genuine relationships. The only way to ensure that we put our best foot forward and make the most of these interactions is to realize that we don’t need to fear them.
Improv is amazing at demonstrating how taking risks in public is not a bad thing. We all have a natural, biological fear of failure and embarrassment, but improv helps us practice taking risks in a safe environment.
3) Listening: Improv teaches that we all have valuable ideas
When we let people share their thoughts without expectation, amazing things can happen. Unfortunately, most young people are told to edit or hold back their thoughts. We spend nearly twenty years of our lives being told to sit still, listen to what we’re told, and not to ask questions. Our ideas are marked and graded, and we wonder if any of it is even valuable to anyone.
Improv is living, breathing proof that everyone has interesting and important things to say. It is the antidote to years of “fit within the lines” and “do what you’re told.” It can enhance our own creativity and our ability to bring out the best in others.
4) Mindfulness: Improv can help support stable mental health
Encouraging positive Mental Health practices in teens is critically important. Universities and colleges everywhere have expanded their support programs to keep students healthy and safe. There was a period in my life before improv where I struggled with panic attacks and obsessive thought spirals almost daily. While improv was by no means a “cure”, it did allow me to turn off my thoughts and just live in the moment. On stage during a show, everything else faded into the background.
When players learn to live in the moment, they are really learning the skill of mindfulness, which is crucial for a healthy and calm mind. It is taught by therapists across the country as a way of managing mental health, and it is also taught by every improv teacher in the world.
5) Positivity: Improv is just plain fun
At the end of the day, we could all use more positivity in our lives. We will always have the option to go negative, to decide something isn’t worth our time or attention or happiness.
But at any moment, we have the option to choose gratitude and excitement, even when there is no logical reason to do that. I’ve laughed more times at stupid, nonsense improv jokes with my friends than I have at anything else. We all want to feel accepted, and it only takes one positive person to bring that out in us. Practicing improv puts us around those people and can help us become that person ourselves.