Improvisation

A good improviser is someone who is awake, not entirely self-focused, and moved by a desire to do something useful and give something back and who acts upon this impulse. — Patricia Ryan Madson in Improv Wisdom

Attending an improvisation workshop in your area is the best way to learn the practice of improvisation. Look for those that play down being funny and play up listening, empathy and collaboration. If you can’t find anything locally, you can find intensive workshops in big cities. Make it a weekend adventure! Field trips are fun. Most recently, I did a workshop with BATS in San Francisco, and it was a blast. Many organizations, including BATS and Second City also offer workplace training.

Books

Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson. I’m in love with this book. PRM explains how we can apply 13 maxims of improvisation in our daily lives in a way that reads like compelling philosophy. When you read it you’ll begin to feel the ground under your feet, even if you’re lying down on the couch.

Improvisation for the Theater by Viola Spolin. This book is the classic. Spolin’s games and philosophy have influenced many fields, including education, and can be applied as a lens on life. This book is geared towards actors and the drama teacher, but is of course applicable to so much more.

Impro for Storytellers by Keith Johnstone. Considered another classic guide for improv games and exercises.

Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City by Kelly Leonard and Tom Yorton. Unlike the two books above, this book is more about business than theater, as you can tell from the title. I am a product of the Second City’s Conservatory Program in LA and am a believer. It was a brilliant education in how to work collaboratively by the seat of your pants. It was also a brilliant education in failure, because everyone bombs and lives to tell about it.

Bossypants by Tina Fey. Here I link to a review of the book in the New York Times by Janet Maselin because she says it all. So, this isn’t technically a book about improvisation, but improv is an essential force in Fey’s life. And if a celebrity memoir is your entry point to improv, I will not judge, because I will read any celebrity memoir.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. One of my favorite AP quotes that we’d all do well to live by: “I’ve always dreamed of growing up to be Amy Poehler.” Get it? It’s all about being yourself. And, possibly, super successful in the arts.

Articles

Improv Training is Making Management Throw Away the Script in BloombergBusiness

Exercises

3 Improv Exercises That Can Change the Way Your Team Works in Harvard Business Review.

Spolin Games Online. Viola Spolin is the mother of improv. She created theater games to help immigrant children adjust to their new surroundings in Chicago during the Great Depression, and these games grew into improv as we know it today. I’m especially fond of the “follow the follower” concept, which is a series of games I’ve linked to here.

Warm Ups in Canadian Improv Games

Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson. This is a guide for how to live, and it includes many exercises that can help you reframe how you experience your relationships, including your relationship with yourself, work and time. Have I mentioned how much I love this book? Yes, and I will say it again.