Improv in a Time of Corona

There is no doubt that we are living in bizarre times. Routines, jobs, schools, and general certainty have all been disrupted by a virus whose impact we have yet to see in full. The sense of uncertainty — of what next month, next week, or even tomorrow will hold — can be crushing, especially when we are unable to share non-digital interactions with those in our support systems and communities. And yes, I’m still thanking my lucky stars for improvisation or improv comedy as it’s commonly known in Chicago. 

Improv is ultimately a game of connection, be it with the audience, a scene partner, or an ensemble. And making a real, meaningful connection requires existing in the exact moment you are in, listening intently and responding to what has been offered to you. It is this moment-to-moment existence that equips us as humans to get through dark, muddy times such as these. 

Similar to improv, meditation asks us to observe our feelings and sensations without judgement, allowing them to pass. It asks us to allow ourselves to become our own scene partners. Meditation requires practice and patience, neither of which I have in spades when it comes to spending time in my own head. But in these weeks of social distancing, of interacting digitally far more than in-person, I am grateful for the practice of improv which helps me listen to myself. Emotions in this time run high and run the gamut from guilt to fear to relaxation, and the practice of listening I’ve gained through improv helps me notice these feelings (mostly) without self- judgment. 

Are you stuck inside and starting to go crazy? Here are a few ideas for how to get through this, whether you are an improviser or not, by using some nifty ideas  from the improv toolkit: 

  • Chat with the people you love. Whether it’s an improv team or your sisters or your friends from school, make a date to video chat with people who make you feel good! RECESS is continuing our Saturday check-ins and rehearsals, and it makes the days feel a lot brighter! 
  • Practice that object work. Find yourself doing a lot of housework? Contemplating exactly how one does wash one’s hands? Take this opportunity to really watch yourself do things. Figure out how you move when you’re carrying something heavy. Become the best mop-wielder out there. In class or rehearsal, you’ll have an endless well of detail-oriented object work to dip into. 
  • Don’t forget to breathe. Your body is your instrument. Also it is the physical manifestation of what you think and feel. Give yourself several deep, slow breaths a few times a day. Notice when you are inadvertently holding your breath. Come back to the present. 
  • Embrace the instinct to talk to yourself. Honestly, especially if you live alone/your roommate/partner/children won’t lose their minds, this may be a perfect time to test out some new characters or accents. Go ahead – have that conversation with your reflection. You may uncover incredible parts of your range you didn’t know you had! 
  • Maintain whatever degree of normalcy you can. It seems like everyone is suggesting this… because it’s good advice. To the degree that you can, keep a bedtime, eat regular meals, exercise as you are able. Anchor in whatever way you can. 

Improv won’t cure society’s ills or COVID-19, but it can help drive connection with others just as much as within yourself. Be safe, wash your hands, and listen deeply. 

NB: Endless, fathomless, eternal thanks to custodians, mail carriers, healthcare workers, grocery store clerks, pharmacists, and farm workers during this time. Thank you for showing the world the meaning of essential. 

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