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3 Surprising Ways Improv Changed My Life

Creator:
Published:
May 7, 2024
May 6, 2024
Why is improv important? Read this article to find out how you can uncover lessons of faith and freedom in spontaneous moments.

One of the ways I describe myself to other people is as an endlessly curious person. From the time I was a little girl, I wondered about the world around me. I asked lots of questions, wanted to try new things, and was never satisfied with the answer of “because I said so.”

As I grew into adulthood, this trait showed up in my interests and hobbies. I decided to play field hockey in high school because I was told hockey was a sport for boys. I joined an axe-throwing league after going on a less-than-thrilling date. I became a writer so I could explore my questions and share my unique voice and perspective.

And in January of 2023, I randomly began taking improv classes simply because I was curious about improv. One night I started Googling the best improv schools near my apartment and the next thing you know, I signed up for an eight-week course having no idea what to expect.

While improv classes were fun and engaging from the get-go, I was not prepared for the ways I began to see the gift of my improv classes as a spiritual practice. In each class, I was surprised to find myself encountering the Divine presence through laughter, joy, people different than me, being brave, and stepping outside my comfort zone. I was stretched like a rubber band in ways I was not expecting nor prepared for.

Here I was in a class with all kinds of interesting people — different mindsets, identities, perspectives, and life experiences. Somehow through this creative art of play and connection, we learned to work together and create a funny scene that had depth and life. Through the famous improv principle of “yes, and,” we built a supportive and creative environment to learn and grow together.

Those eight weeks of improv classes changed me in more ways than one. I grew in my self confidence in ways I didn’t expect or think I needed. I sang my little heart out when learning musical improv. I practiced trusting my intuition and made bold character choices. I felt so happy when I had a wide array of family members and friends (including a priest friend!) come to cheer me on during my class shows.

Of all the insights and things I learned from embracing this new hobby, there are three lessons that have stuck with me.

Be on the lookout for God — even in the most surprising ways!

I did not expect to find and experience God through my newfound hobby. One of the things that drew me to Ignatian spirituality in college was the idea that we can experience and find God anywhere: in people, places, nature, a moving melody, a stunning painting, a heartfelt letter — a community improv class.

God is so much bigger, wider, and mysterious than any of us could ever imagine. Why try to put the power of the Divine in a box? 

God is not confined to acting in a certain way and certainly can be experienced through more than just a church building. I saw God in the faces of people who were very different from me. I felt the gentleness of God when my teachers gave me feedback that empowered me and helped me to be brave. I felt God’s presence standing on stage with bright lights in my face and laughing with classmates over beers at an Irish pub.

You find God anywhere in this big, crazy, beautiful world. Let’s not put a limit on that.

Learn how to play (again!)

One of the surprising gifts of improv for me has been learning how to play again as an adult. As children, playfulness comes easily to us. Sometimes as adults, we lose that uncensored joy and ease. Learning how to play, be silly, and have fun in new ways was something I was not prepared for — but deeply needed in my life. 

Improv classes are an invitation to turn off that internal voice that is editing yourself so that you present a certain way to the world around you. In learning how to play again, I have softened and turned down the dial of self-criticism. Learning how to play has actually helped me become more gentle and kind to myself.

Stop writing the script of your life. Just improvise it!

On top of my fireplace mantle sits a little note that reads, “Who needs a script when you’ve got improv? Just do more improv. Break a leg tonight.” This sweet note came attached to a bouquet of flowers from a dear priest friend who was unable to attend my first class show. 

My class show went on, and I had the time of my life. It was almost as if a new piece of me opened up and came alive while I was up on stage. As I reflected on this thoughtful little note, I realized how these words were such an applicable life lesson.

Perhaps you’re a bit like me and want to know how life will turn out — how will the details come together? Will I find the person I’m supposed to spend my life with? What is the path my career will take? Can I do it on my own and build a meaningful life? 

As adults, we try to keep a tight grip on the reins of our lives, desperate to control what happens or might come our way. We are trying to write and direct the script of our lives. Instead, maybe the gentler approach is to just improvise it, like my note from Fr. Jake said.

What would happen if you and I trusted God more with the unfolding path of our lives? What if we tried to stop writing the script of life and practiced the art of improv — being open, brave, trusting the process as it develops? I feel like this is a lesson and a reminder that we may all need from time to time.

Even if you never try improv, I hope you can take something from what I learned. Maybe you try to see God in a person or place you wouldn’t normally. Or maybe you find a hobby that allows you to be playful and connect with your inner child. Regardless, I hope you discover the unexpected blessings that come with being curious about the world around you. 

Creators:
Patty Breen
Published:
May 7, 2024
May 6, 2024
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