Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Rick Horner

Improv Opposites
by Rick Horner, 1 Feb 2008

Rick Horner considers improv to be a vitally important part of Philadelphia. He is the Director of ZombieShark, and he is also a member of Whipsuit, both Philadelphia improv groups. He is the creator and proprietor of The Incubator - a weekly get-together for area improvisers, who meet to play together - with no strings (or audience) attached. Rick is also one of the organizers of the annual Philadelphia Improv Festival, and Coach of the MakeOut Clinic (another Philadelphia improv group!)

For more information, email Rick at [email protected].


Improv is, at its core, performing when you don't know what's going to happen next. So if that definition is true, then everything in life is improv. Any time you need to work with other people, express yourself, or create anything. The specific way in which it is useful to you depends on who you are and how you apply the skills that you learn. For example, managers, salespeople, and business owners can improve their leadership skills, communicate better and learn teambuilding skills through improvisation, even if they don't know they're doing it.

The hard part, for a lot of people, is getting there. Learning to trust yourself and trusting your own instincts. Improv is really learning to trust the unknown, and it can be one of the hardest things to do, yet so fun when you are able to! If you have a lot of stress in your life, improv can help you let go and have fun, submit and free yourself. Some of the most amazing discoveries happen! If you don't trust, and if you don't let go of control, you may not discover those magical moments.

Here are some ideas that talked about quite a bit in improv; your prime responsibility is to support others. Work at the top limits of your abilities and intelligence. Always look for the truth and honesty found within the situation and characters. Trust your fellow players to support you; trust them to come through for you. Trust yourself and trust your instincts. Listen to your partners.

Here are some of the opposites of these ideas, which are all equally important; to look good yourself, you need to make others look good. To be safe you have to take risks. To be self-reliant you have to trust others. Often, to be able to succeed, you need to be willing to fail good-naturedly.

Performing comedy improv can be great training for the rest of the challenges of life, because you really have to learn to adapt to things as they happen at each show. And it truly is a very collaborative effort - nobody has a script - you come in with an idea and improvise together and hope for the best. You learn what works... and what doesn't... pretty quickly, together. Improv "training" can provide confidence and skills to tackle multiple other challenges life throws at us. Don't get upset when someone throws you a curve, just run with it and enjoy the ride.

So how can you tell how you did? In improv, if you simply play the game of the scene, creating a scene that is believable, and you seem to be having fun, the audience will be right with you, listening. The audience's enjoyment only happens as the result of fun, playful improv. We ask the audience for suggestions, but that is mainly to help assure them what they are seeing is truly improvised and not planned - we could just as easily make things up ourselves. What we really and truly need our audiences present for is to be living proof that something beautiful and magical happened at some point, somewhere.

Letting go of worrying about entertainment puts focus on the elements that will create the entertainment value. The less that folks worry about how they look, the better they end up looking. Improv is when players move themselves into new situations and surprise everyone with the resolutions they come up with on the fly. The whole world could use a little more of that.

Print Article Brought to you by: Rick Horner | Director of ZombieShark

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