October 13, 2017
It’s a fairly well-known fact that if you work at a creative agency it’s highly likely you have fun (or crazy) benefits. You can bring your dog to work, you can drink a beer at your leisure or you can play ping-pong in the middle of the day. Fast Horse, in particular, has a number of benefits that are more unconventional than most. The coolest, in my opinion, is the Muse It Or Lose It stipend. The purpose of Muse It Or Lose It is to promote and encourage creative exploration. You can use the stipend to experience new things that expand your horizons, force you to stretch creatively, advance intellectually, learn new skills and meet new people.
This year, I decided to really step outside my comfort zone and go for something that would accomplish all of the above: improv class.
Before I understood what improv was exactly, I didn’t have the most positive impression of it, thanks to the way it’s typically portrayed on TV or film. We’ve all seen that “Office” episode where Michael kills everybody. But, once I saw a couple live shows here in the city, I decided it looked fun and attended a free preview class at Brave New Workshop.
Since 1958, Brave New Workshop has offered classes and performances in comedy, improv and satire, making it the longest-running theatre in the United States. They also have an impressive list of alumni that includes our very own Senator Al Franken. There are four levels of everyday improv classes offered, with no requirement to perform until your last level is complete. BNW’s core value is that improv is a holistic experience that fosters personal growth and creativity by teaching you to be bolder and more confident, and to embrace more ridiculousness and play in your life.
Needless to say, after the free preview night I immediately signed up for the level 1 “Intro to Improv” class. For the past eight weeks, I spent two hours a week learning to release my inhibitions — and had a blast while doing it. There were eight of us total in the class, all from different walks of life. We ranged from 22 to 57 years of age and had a barber, a playwright, a planning analyst and a pharmacist in our group.
Each week there was a different focus, starting with the basics and building up to a more well-rounded understanding of all the bits and pieces that make up successful improv. The very first class was all about “Yes, And,” – a rule-of-thumb that implies the participant accepts what another participant has stated (the “yes” part) and then expands on that line of thinking (the “and” part). Our instructor also made it very clear from the start that there was no need to try or worry about being funny. It’s all about the everyday, relatable truths — that’s where the best humor emerges.
From there we learned about group thought, heightening, declarations, character/expert development and spacework before we moved into scenework for the last two weeks. It was a challenging whirlwind that was also very rewarding. It has helped me feel more confident and creative in different aspects of my life and has introduced me to a fantastic group of people that I never would have met or interacted with otherwise. In fact, we had so much fun that most of us signed up for Level 2 together.
If not for my Muse It Or Lose It opportunity, I don’t think I would have ever considered trying improv. So I have to say, I’m grateful for the requirement to try something outside my comfort zone. It’s a valuable experience that I hope to do more often in life, because you never know what great thing you’re missing out on.