It’s terrifying, it’s stressful, it’s fun. (These aren’t part of the five reasons.)
“There is nothing more exhilarating than standing backstage at an improvisation show,” says Rebecca De Unamuno. “The electricity in the room is palpable. The combination of nerves, anticipation, expectation, fear and excitement is incredible. Every single improviser present is going through the exact same thing. The fear of the unknown, the thrill of jumping on stage armed only with your wit, humour and commitment.”
Rebecca has been performing as a comedian since 1998, working across heeeeaps of Aussie TV shows, on radio and – especially – on stage, where her skills at making hilarious stuff up off the top of her head have made her one of Australia’s most beloved improv artists. So beloved, that we’re calling her Bec from here on in. Like we’re besties.
While we braid each other’s hair, here are five reasons you should follow in Bec’s footsteps.
Improv helps you build confidence
“Every performer goes through some level of anxiety before going on stage,” explains Bec. “What if I forget my lines? What if I don’t get any laughs? What if the loose button from the top of my pants actually does pop off mid-monologue?” The other side of that is how amazing it feels when the crowd is loving your work and everything goes off perfectly. The first time you try improv, you’ll no doubt be nervous. But as you keep going, you’ll gain more and more confidence in your abilities – and this will carry over into the rest of your life.
It also helps you build resilience
It’s not surprising to learn that not every performance is a winner. In comedy it can be especially brutal, because if the audience isn’t laughing, you know it’s not going well. But, crazy as this may seem, going through tough experiences makes you stronger. Improv embraces the idea of “failing joyfully”, which means seeing those interruptions to the flow as opportunities for thinking about what could have happened in the moment. Next time, you’ll nail it.
It gives your imagination a work-out
One of the greatest benefits of having to make things up on the spot is… getting in the habit of being imaginative. “Being an improviser requires a child-like, eyes-wide-open, positive approach,” says Bec. “You’re required to think outside the square, to ask what the possibilities could be, to step into the shoes of a character for an entire scene. One of the most common questions we ask is ‘What happens next?’ With boundless imagination the possibilities are endless.”
It teaches the value of teamwork
Bec says, “A selfish improviser will never go far. Ego must be left in the wings.” Improv is the ultimate trust exercise, where you and your fellow performers rely on each other to bring the best ideas possible. When Bec thinks about the friends she’s made, she says, “I have been my most vulnerable on stage with them. We have struggled through the bad scenes and revelled in the great scenes. I have been there when they needed me and turned to them when I am lost. We have bantered back and forth effortlessly, brought out the best in each other and relished in watching the other person fly.”
It brings out your special individual skills
“Every improviser brings with them a special skill,” Bec reveals. “They may be brilliant at character work, excellent with narrative, can sing beautifully, have great one-liners or can rhyme at the drop of a hat.” Combined with that teamwork we just talked about, it’s a recipe for an amazing experience for you and the audience.