Growing up, I’d play pretend constantly. Whether I was hosting a royal ball in my bedroom or singing to a crowd of thousands from our apartment balcony (deepest apologies to our neighbors), playing pretend helped me explore, imagine, and get creative––while also providing an escape.
I know I’m not alone in this. Playing pretend as a child isn’t groundbreaking. In fact, I’d bet most everyone did it. The real question is: with all the benefits it has to offer, why do we ever stop?
Something happens when we get older that makes us believe playing pretend just isn’t a ‘grown up’ thing to do. Societal pressure? Lack of time? Fear of being judged? Well I’m here to say: f*ck all that. Playing pretend is for everybody––ånd it’s really freakin’ good for you.
So, how do you jump back into the land of make-believe as an adult? The answer is simple: improv.
Unleash your imagination.
When we play pretend as kids, we get to be anyone, anywhere, doing anything we want––the options are only limited by the boundaries of our imagination. A jellyfish at a job interview? You got it. A princess lost in an underground jungle? Yes please. A superhero that can shoot fruit roll-ups out of their eyeballs? Sure, why the heck not?
But unfortunately as we get older, our wild imagination often gets stashed away, replaced instead by predictability and routine. Days start to look the same and blend together. Coffee, work, dinner, repeat. Boriiiiing. Meanwhile, our imagination is buried under a zillion errand and bill-related cobwebs begging to be rescued, dusted off, and put to good use.
Improv provides an outlet for tapping into your imagination on the regular. Every scene is a new opportunity to build entire worlds, try on different characters, and spin up unlikely circumstances alongside other improvisers.
Plus, there’s no room for routine in improv––it’s all made up on the spot so you have no idea what’ll happen next. This way, you’re pulled right out of the dull and predictable and thrown into practicing a flexible mindset that’ll prep you for just about anything that might come up in your everyday life (cough, cough… pandemic, anyone?).
Think back to your childhood self. Did you dance around without reason? Try out a funny voice to make people laugh? Pull goofy pranks on unassuming siblings? I know I did. Now, take a moment to reflect––when was the last time you took part in an act of complete and absolute silliness?
Been a while? That’s okay, the good news is improv is all about making big, bold, and silly choices. Maybe you’re in a scene as a talking alarm clock who’s tired of ringing. Or perhaps you’re an alien that only speaks in three-word phrases. Or an archaeologist that’s just discovered a rare species of heart-shaped dinosaurs. No matter the choices you make––you’ll be pushed to think outside the box and get comfortable laughing at yourself. What’s more, you’ll have scene partners supporting you with their own silly choices the whole way through. In fact, don’t be surprised if the talking alarm clock and alien somehow end up in the very same scene. (Yes, really)
Silence your self-doubt.
If you’ve spent any time around kids, you know that they hardly ever think twice before whatever they have to say has made it out of their mouth. For better or worse, kids don’t filter themselves. If they have something to say, they say it, committed and proud. But somewhere along the way, we start to second guess everything that runs through our minds. Will people think it’s funny? Will I sound smart? Will anyone even care?
Luckily, in improv, there’s technically no such thing as a wrong choice. If what comes out of your mouth makes no sense whatsoever, it’s still the right thing to say as long as you do so with confidence. It’s a test in believing in yourself and your scene partners and knowing that whatever comes next will be great as long as you don’t hesitate to commit to the information you’ve shared.
Tune in to the moment.
Kids live in the here and now. They don’t spend a ton of time thinking about how a play date went last week or planning where they’ll go for next year’s summer break. They’re in tune with the present and excited about what’s happening exactly where they are in that moment.
As an improviser, no matter how much you tend to live in the past or future in your day-to-day (sound familiar?)––you’re challenged to let that line of thinking go when you’re on stage. Why? Because a core tenet of improv is active listening. To successfully ‘Yes, and’ a scene partner’s choices, you have to listen, make eye contact, and stay fully present. If your mind starts to wander, you might miss critical information you need to keep the scene moving. That means your brain isn’t stuck ruminating or thinking ahead, it’s actively engaged in the present moment.
Embrace your emotions.
When kids are feeling something, you can see it all over their face. They cry when they’re sad. They cry when they’re hurt. They cry even when there’s really nothing to cry about.
And the thing is, adults do too. We just happen to be a bit quieter about it. Well, a lot quieter. We hold back our feelings to avoid being vulnerable. If we show that we’re sad, we fear looking weak. If we feel happy, we start to wonder how long it’ll last before something terrible comes along to balance things out.
Improv challenges you to get out of your emotional comfort zone. When you get up on stage, you’re taking a giant leap of vulnerability and putting trust in your scene partners to have your back as you try on disappointment, shock, joy, fear, excitement, and every emotion in between. And they’re trusting you to do the same.
And sometimes, what you might be feeling under the surface can help fuel some of your emotional choices on stage. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing––see it for what it is, an opportunity to channel your emotions into something fun and ridiculous to help work through them, rather than bottling them up.
So, whether you’re 18 or 88, there’s a whole made-up world out there waiting for you. I encourage you to keep on playing, pretending, and embracing the silly, there’s more than enough of it to go around––and your inner child will most definitely thank you for it.
Want to give improv a try? Take a peek at our event schedule to sign up for our next free workshop.