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- Joined: Mon Jul 14, 2014 3:31 pm
The lights shining down onto the stage are blinding, mercifully so bright that I cannot see the hundreds of eyes staring at me expectantly. “Lion.”, I think to myself. Those two syllables were shouted out moments ago by an audience member and I begin to cascade my thoughts from that word. “Lion. Savanna. Brave. Africa. Safari.” I’m already in the spotlight, already about to take my position even though I’m not yet sure what that will be. “Lion.”, I say to myself one last time. Suddenly, it comes to me. I grab two chairs, sit down in a relaxed position and grip an imaginary steering wheel. A troupe member follows me and sits in the adjoining chair. “Alright” I holler, “Before you can start poaching the big game, you gotta start small. That’s why this first hunting trip we ain’t gonna start with no rhino or no lion. We’s gonna go kill us a dung beetle.” The audience howls with laughter and the scene is off and running.
To anyone watching me, it seemed as though I was given hardly anything, yet I managed to create a successful improv scene from just a single word. In reality, I have spent the last year learning important skills that allow me to craft complex and witty scenes from the smallest of prompts. Improv has helped me develop proficency in team-building, trust, speed, basic scene-building and accepting and conquering fears. Above all, two of the most important lessons that I learned were, “defining my wants” and always saying “yes, and…”.
A little over a year ago I first stepped into Theatre 99 to take a level one improv class. Three courses, a tournament and several shows later, I can confidently say that the skills I have learned and developed there have helped me in my professional life and will be valuable assets for law school. The strategies used in improv work well in many aspects of life. When a scene begins, you have nothing. There is no script, no set, no props and no costumes. Improvisers must immediately identify some fundamentals. Who are we? What is our relationship and history with one another? Where are we? But most importantly, what do we want? A character in a scene does not come to life until she wants something. If your want is not compelling, the scene will be dull and uninteresting.
When a scene begins, I always ask myself “What do I want?”. I make a specific choice; something that I believe will be compelling and interesting for the audience. You can’t find your path without having a goal, but if your goal does not excite you, why would you be motivated to achieve it? What has excited me since high school is the desire, the “want” to become an attorney. This “want” led to me pursue a degree in Political Science. Much like how the skills I learned during my improv training help me to craft a successful scene, the analytical skills I possess due to my degree will allow me to do well in law school.
The second most important lesson that improv has taught me is to practice the “yes, and” mentality. With improv nothing is scripted or planned in advance, scenes are literally evolving as the audience watches them. How can you build a scene and not have it flop? By always saying “yes, and . . .” to whatever your scene partners throw your way. You don’t ask questions. You wholly and unequivocally accept what’s given and build from there. Saying “No.” or asking questions will stop the flow. If your scene partner declares, “I’m so happy we finally took this vacation.”, you will not question their statement but add to it. “It may have taken us sixty years honey, but we finally made it to the Grand Canyon.”
By saying “Yes, and…” you take on responsibility and contribute to the scene. In my life, much as with a scene, I have had things happen that were beyond my control. It does not help to question, complain or attempt to ignore whatever has happened. It is important to acknowledge it and…move forward. Though I am grateful for the skills I gained by majoring in Political Science, I do not believe that that alone is a solid reflection of my abilities. I did not feel confident to apply to law school immediately upon graduation because of this. However, I acknowledged that I needed more real world experience and was motivated to pursue a career in the legal field to help achieve this aim. I have had the opportunity to work as a legal assistant for the last three years. Regular correspondence with clients and the court as well as drafting loan documents has enhanced my written and verbal communication, while meeting strict filing deadlines in time-sensitive situations fostered both problem-solving skills and the ability to work under pressure.
Success in improv requires the ability to define what you want and to find a way to make that work. I have learned to think quickly on my feet,
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