Improv 101: the outsider perspective

One thing that I’ve learned as a Secondary Education & English student is that the art of teaching is one-third organization, one-third content-knowledge, and one-third performance. I am organized: I keep track of my deadlines and work diligently. I have content knowledge: after all, I’ve been studying English here for almost four years now. I also have some elements of performance: but no classroom theater matches what is produced by real, professional actors.

    Let me explain: on Monday, Nov. 6, I attended an improv workshop, run by Robert Neill, a “writer/director/performer/teacher and managing director of the New York Neo-Futurist Ensemble”–basically, a professional actor. Cool, so one-third of my job is his entire job! I was set up for success.

   Or so I thought. I soon learned that I am no professional, nor am I all-too-good at improv acting: simply coming up with acting on the fly. I was there because I like a challenge, and fortunately, that is exactly what the workshop was all about.

    Due to the fact that the workshop was largely made up of freshmen theater majors, as a senior, I felt old enough to be their grandfather. Furthermore, I actually attend a middle school and student teach during the day each Monday, so I was dressed in a button down shirt and black pants. Wonderful improv garb, I should have pretended that I was actually someone of importance, the freshmen would have been so convinced!

    Nevertheless, all that aside, the improv games were interesting. Firstly, led by Neill, everyone in the group closed their eyes and attempted to, one voice at a time, count to twenty. If two or more people said the same number at the same time, we had to start over. My strategy was to rapidly say nine and then 19. Why those numbers? No clue. After a few hiccups, we completed this exercise.

     I participated in a few other improv games that were far too intricate to even begin to explain. Regardless, I felt a sense of satisfaction as I completed each game with the large, close knit group of freshmen. It was almost as if I, like a mole or a double-agent, immersed myself into their society, gradually learned their ways and customs, and eventually became accepted by the group.

    All in all, I am still able to take away something from this experience and apply it to my own passion. Perhaps, in my classroom someday, I can perform a bit of improv on my own; after all, performance is one-third of my future job. I am not a student of theater, but by pretending I knew what I was doing that night, all while surrounded by theater students, my improv was perhaps amongst the best in the room.