This entry kicks off a new, weekly feature for our blog, guest posts. To start things off with a bang, we are grateful to have Charna Halpern’s thoughts on how improv can change your life away from the stage.
My late partner, Del Close, used to say that in teaching improvisation, we are making better people. Teaching them our tenets, we were creating a “theater of the heart — a theater where people cherished each other to succeed on stage.” I have been interviewed a great deal about my successful IMPROV EMPIRE and I’ve been asked how I made it happen. My answer is that I follow the tenets of improv as rules for my life. The things that have happened to me in my life are certainly more interesting than anything I had planned. And luckily, my theater attracted folks who also supported that same vision — the idea of taking care of each other, helping each other and making each other look good. This on stage concept fell off the stage as well and created an incredibly large family of folks who never leave and have expanded to IOWEST in LA. The success of IO and IOWEST is due to the fact that that we have an army of folks who have saved our corner of the world by being good to each other. I also take some credit in the success of IO and IOWEST because I always said YES. I said YES to their ideas when they wanted to try out a new type of form or a new show. I said YES to their ideas when they wanted to teach and add direction to the theater. I said YES to their creativity and they found a place that they considered to be their home and not just a place owned by Charna Halpern And saying YES has also led to wild adventure in my life.
When I was asked by the American Embassy to come to Cyprus to teach improvisation to the Greek and Turkish Cypriots in an effort to take down the border between the two, I said YES. When the Embassy informed me that neither of the two spoke each other’s languages and neither of them spoke English and wanted to know if this could still be done, I said YES. (It was quite successful, I might add, and the border has been taken down. I guess I saved their corner of the world, too.) When I was asked to teach on The Real World, I said YES. When I was asked by Nuclear Physicists to come to CERN in Geneva, Switzerland to teach the physicists to improvise, I said YES. I could go on and on, but in short — things just don’t happen when you say NO.
So, enjoy the art of improvisation on stage. There is nothing more fun. But when you learn the main tenets that make improvisation work best — realize these are lessons to live by. If you are an improviser, you are already a cut above the rest. If you are an improviser, you are going to be a better person.
Charna Halpern runs iO Improv (formerly Improv Olympic) out of Chicago and co-authored one of the most influential improv books out there, Truth in Comedy. She can currently be seen teaching on MTV’s The Real World XX: Hollywood (can’t wait for season 30). You can read her own blog here.