Taking improv classes has been a hell of a journey. I knew it would be hard, but it was difficult in ways I didn't expect. Improv ultimately isn't about being funny or making jokes or somehow building a punchline out of nothing; that's the stuff that happens on accident as you actually do improv. The hard part is that improv is based entirely on behaviors that you spend the majority of your life specifically not doing. Everything you've learned to do to be a functioning member of society is death to improv. We deflect compliments with modesty and criticism with defiance, our default answer is "no" in the interest of self-preservation, and we ask questions in conversations to show our interest. Guess what? Improv requires rewiring all of those impulses, and I don't think it will surprise you to hear that that is not an easy feat. These are reactionary responses, things you don't even think twice about. I'll bet you don't even notice doing it. Except now you will. It's sort of like someone pointing out how your tongue doesn't quite fit in your mouth...you've never thought about it, but you're going to spend the next hour thinking about it and being very aware of it.
Improv isn't about being funny (did you know dramatic improv was a thing? I sure didn't). It's about accepting the reality, whatever it may be. The best improv is often rooted in a very real scenario or very real characters that gradually go off the rails. That's certainly not a requirement, as anyone who has ever touched improv will tell you there's no right or wrong way to do it (though there are certainly ways that you make it more difficult for yourself and your scene partners), but if you look at most long-form improv performances you'll start to notice it. Learning to accept the reality you accidentally build is the most basic yet most difficult aspect of this skill set, because it requires you to let go of any and all control and any and all preconceived notions you have about what you're going on the stage to do. If you step out expecting to be the president in a war room and your scene partner says "oh sweet grandma, thanks for the cookies", you're grandma now. And that's hard.
The frustrating part is none of it sounds difficult. You're nodding your head going "yeah duh this all makes sense" but when you're faced with doing it...wow. But there's value in experiencing the moment of freezing up because the only answer your brain has to the situation in front of you is to the do the thing you know you shouldn't. There's a new awareness that comes from it, and even if you don't practice improv enough to rewire the impulse the new sensitivity you gain from that awareness gives new life to how you approach daily interactions. I'm certainly better than I was when I started improv, and I am much more confident in social settings. It's something I would 100% recommend everyone try at least once, just for the perspective it gives you. Most places that offer improv do free drop-in classes every once in a while. Keep an eye out for them!
For now, I've gone through three courses (that's approximately 50 hours and two on stage performances) and am grateful for Past Jenn being able to finally work up the courage to take one of these classes. I'm having a lot of fun, meeting some great people, and most importantly learning about myself and the social tendencies of people in general. I have to take a break for a while due to scheduling, but I plan on continuing the classes eventually!