Jimmy Johnnie

3 Ways to Grow As an Improviser

Artists take risks. They evolve.

They are excited about trying new things, even when they flat-out fail because they know they will have many more failures than successes. They really don’t fail; they learn and grow.

And they are always seeking inspiration. That is their rocket fuel.

I think about my favorite musicians like Neil Young, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom I believe are truly artists. Their music evolved from one record to the next.

What I find interesting is we think all they did was make one hit song after another. Yet they have had songs or even whole albums there were completely forgettable, some might even say flops. But I would argue that without the flops, these artists could not keep churning out the hit songs and albums.

And these are only the songs they recorded. Just think about all the songs they wrote that didn’t even make it into the recording studio, or their early songs that they wrote as they were developing their voice as an artist?

When you’ve been improvised for a while it’s so easy to get complacent. You go on auto pilot and you stop learning, stop growing, stop evolving. Your inspiration has dried up. You start treating your improv shows like just getting together with your friends for a couple of beers. You may even leave your show feeling you are just wasting your time and think, “What am I doing with my life?”

But when you were first starting out the joy was all in the learning. You were humble because you didn’t know shit, and you were fine with that.

That’s why you can’t stop trying new things or taking risks. Because if you don’t, it won’t become art anymore, and worse, it will no longer be fun.

If you feel like your improv has plateaued lately, here are three things that can make feel like an artist again.

  1. Try One New Thing in Each Show As a Group
    I think as improviser I can often get scared or lazy. Before each Jimmy and Johnnie show, John Hildreth and I, along with our guest improviser, will agree on one thing we want to work on in that night’s show. We keep it simple, such as: “quicker edits,” or “positive emotions” or “Let’s do more two person scenes tonight.”I have found working on just one thing make me more relaxed knowing we as a group have something to focus on for that particular show. I have also found that it helps with the notes after our show because we have created something besides the audience’s reaction to measure our progress.Even if you don’t accomplish your goal, it’s still a great tool to use for teams or groups who have been around for a while.
  2. Try One New Thing in Each Show as a Performer
    You can also challenge yourself as a performer to work on one new skill in each show.I did this in our last Jimmy and Johnnie show. I had been feeling like I had gotten away from playing real and honest characters, so I challenged myself to play a character closer to myself in the show. So that night, I played all of my characters closer to myself and responded honestly in each scene, and the results were amazing. It was one of the best shows I’ve had in a long time.Note: If you’re also focusing on one thing as a group, don’t try to take one more than one thing yourself. Your head will explode.
  3. Get Inspired
    When I first started out in improv, my life became going to shows, classes, and rehearsals, and going out to bars and late-night coffee shops with other improvisers  talking about improv. I had nothing to draw from except improv. After a while those improv walls caved in. Since I was living and breathing improv, I didn’t have room for inspiration to get in.All artists need inspiration, especially outside their own art form.I’ve noticed for myself that since I have been writing and performing in storytelling nights the last couple of months, my improv has gotten 47 percent stronger. Why you ask? It’s simple. I’m getting inspiration from another art form, where I am learning and taking risks again. It’s exciting and humbling. And this is filling me up creativity. It seems to spill over into my improv without me even trying.

    So, If you think you improv is a little bland, all you may need to do is add a little inspiration, which you can find almost anywhere.

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