Improv saves lives: expat edition

I haven’t had a chance to perform any improv on stage for the last two years, but I wanted to share with you how much the improv I did with the Brave New Workshop Student Union and HUGE Theater changed my life path and made things imminently more awesome.

  1. Yes, and. The basic foundation of an improv scene is that one person makes a declaration and the second person builds on it. Then the first person builds on that – and off you go. As a new improvisor, I believed this meant that I should learn to stop saying, “No, that isn’t true.” As a human being, I take it now to mean this: whenever I am flexible of mind enough to understand that the perspective of my conversation partner is a valid world view, I can affirm that position even if I think s/he is wrong.
  2. Embrace a collaborative world view. In an improv scene, the world that is created is necessarily determined by the input of everyone on the stage. Just like in real life, you don’t get a say in how the story around you develops if you don’t open up your face and add something. While practicing improv, I learned to practice fearlessness and let go of self-judgement while exercising my voice. These qualities are essential to surviving as an expat: when you don’t speak up for yourself, you get steamrolled verbally and socially and live in a world that someone else created for you.
  3. Laughter is as essential as water. During my first weeks of class, I laughed harder at myself and the silly things we did and said than I’d laughed the entire previous year. Ridiculous became reality for minutes at a time and I had the chance to look at my assumptions and prejudices in a different space. I am ridiculous: my world view is limited as are the world views of everyone around me – we are shaped by our experiences, and those experiences limit our vision. You can’t see what you don’t know exists — until someone throws it in your face and you have to respond to it somehow. And then laugh because – wow. That’s there. That’s a thing that happened. As an expat, all I can do is laugh sometimes because the constrained rules of living abroad require patience and good humor unless you want the stress to kill you with an aneurism, an ulcer, or a leap from a tall bridge.
  4. Listening is more important than speaking. In all sorts of comedy, there’s this thing called a callback that’s basically remembering a small thing someone mentioned earlier in a scene and using it as a punchline again later. Here in Abu Dhabi, I’m the punchline if I don’t remember all the little details going on around me – and information about how things get done is passed on in snippets of conversations and hints from people who’ve done them before. People want to share information, but don’t explain themselves the way I’m used to. All feelers have to be out for anything to make sense.
  5. You can be scared, but there’s nothing to be scared of. Being the center of attention during a scene for the first time was kind of terrifying. I had no idea what I was going to say. Then I opened up my face and said things, then my scene partners said things, and we just kept going – and then the audience laughed. It was magic. The first time I went shopping to buy fabric for a new dress, I realized that I had to haggle with the vendor over price and quality and I had no idea how to do it. In the US, price is price and the person at the cash register has no control over it. In Abu Dhabi, the guy behind the counter can make any deal he wants and can spot a newbie walking in the door. Arabian confidence and bluster can really rattle a girl! I was raised to be polite! And even though I’m opinionated, I didn’t want to be rude and say no! But then I realized I didn’t have to give him my money if I didn’t want what he was selling – and I opened up my face and started haggling. I got what I wanted, he got what he wanted, and the floor didn’t open up and swallow me because I was doing something I’d never done before. Then I got to haggle with a tailor and get a pretty new dress. I’d call that an all around win.

So, yeah: Improv. You should try it sometime. Today, November 15th, is Give To The Max day in Minnesota – the biggest fundraising day of the year. If you’ve got a spare 10 bucks to support the people who bring these life lessons to anyone who shows up, please go see a show at the Brave New Institute or HUGE Theater. OR: click on over to these donation pages and support the venues who keep the funny performances and life changing classes happening all year round.

HUGE Theater: IMPROVATHON – 24 hours of improv. $20,000 goal.

Brave New Institute: adult classes for school teachers (like me!)

5 thoughts on “Improv saves lives: expat edition”

  1. Great advice – not just for expats, of course, but for life. And teaching. I think of my classes very much as improv exercises (which is why when students say, “could you repeat that?” I say…um….er….).

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