Why Improv?

How does the brain work?

For all of the experiments that have been conducted, we’ve established that the brain is essentially a computer whose purpose is to process the input from our senses and catalog stimuli.  Using an almost infinite combination of neural nets and associations, it then attempts to predict what will happen in the future.  Ideally, this access to the future keeps the human being one step ahead of potential danger, ensuring happy and healthy survival.  The process of association begins very early in life with the basics of learning to seek pleasure and avoid pain.  This is the skeletal frame of our individual philosophies and the events that form this frame are as unique as we are.  Like paper Mache, the nuances of our experience are layered upon this frame to create the world view upon which we lead our lives.

Why do we continually make the same decisions?

While the potential combinations of neural networks are almost infinite, for convenience sake, patterns do appear.  The properties of frequent experience are noted to streamline the brains cataloging process.  For instance, if X=Happiness, then the brain spends nearly all of its spare resources (those resources that aren’t allocated for autonomic survival functions) solving for X.  As with any efficient computer, solving for a desired result also involves identifying that which isn’t the desired result.  For instance, a child intrinsically knows that pleasure is the result of a lack of pain and visa versa.  If that same child learns that speaking his mind results in pain, he will naturally learn to derive pleasure from not speaking his mind.  While this may be a variable in the mind of another, for this individual it is a constant.  Whether it is an empirical truth or merely perception makes no difference as far as the brain is concerned; it is, nevertheless, a foundation of his brain’s operating system.  These “constants” can appear at every stage of the brain’s development from a bend in the frame to a wrinkle in a final layer of paper Mache, and when they do, they assure that nearly every beginning of a series of choices shares a common starting point.  In most cases, the same starting point results in a similar finish.  This could account for the fact that we constantly seek the same relationships, occupations and diversions and if they happen to be dysfunctional or unfulfilling in the end, well, so be it.  That’s just reality…as we know it.

What is improvisation?

In recent years, improvisational theater or “Improv” has become a cottage industry.  Today, it is commonly recognized as a medium of performance in and of itself, but it wasn’t always so.  At its rudimentary level, Improv is the art of being.  Improv is how the brain experiments.  Using all of our five senses (and perhaps some unnumbered, intuitive senses) the brain reaches out to sample its surroundings.  Then, it attempts to affect its surroundings with action, speech or touch.  It then marks the reaction and begins the experiment anew.  This experimental dance is that of action and reaction and, in its purest form, exists without supposition or prejudice.  In the infinitesimal blink of time that we call “now,” we improvise…all of us…always.  Without knowing it, children display an uncanny affinity for improvisation as their lives are almost purely experimentation.

Where did this skill go?

As the brain catalogs, the questions about our world are replaced with that which we perceive as answers, and that which we yearn to know is supplanted by that which we already do.  Files of curiosity get filled to capacity, and the files we access often are placed at the top of the pile.  Our lives no longer allow for experimentation because our culture demands results.  The time comes in all of our lives for our brain’s world view to be put to task; ready or not, for better or worse.  The echoes of pain line our path and keep us focused, and we rely on what we know as we race towards the finish, spurred on by our sense of impending mortality.  These echoes of pain are a Governor that keeps us on the straight and narrow.  This Governor is neither good nor bad, but, by virtue of its definition, it is designed to limit us. 

Is Improv really necessary?

No.  Whether or not you choose to acknowledge Improv, bidden or unbidden, the finish will come.

What are the benefits of Improv?

Later in life, Improv can serve as a valuable reassessment of our world view.  Often we wish that we could access our past with “what we know now.”  In a fashion, Improv can provide that.  In the stillness of sincerity and the purity of the unspoiled “now,” we can enjoy an insight that is but a blur at our life’s present pace.  Where exactly are we “now?”  Is our brain’s world view serving us like it should, or is the operating system outdated?  Were our fears justified?  What was the source of our desires?  Have we grown beyond the limits of the Governor that once protected us from embarrassment and harm?  While the answers to these questions are unique to the individual, Improv can serve as a valuable tool to anyone who chooses to wield it.


There are 2 comments

  1. Matt Garnaas wrote

    One of the things I love most about improvising, whether in a show or workshop, is that no matter what may be on my mind the rest of the day, for that period of time, my mind is only occupied with the world on that stage.

    Great stuff, D.

  2. Matt,

    Your level of commitment is never more apparent than when, in your improv zone, you unknowingly loose your bowels all over the stage. God bless you, such is the price of your focus.