An Abundance of Abundance

I am a big believer in the idea of abundance. I don’t want to go all Tony Robbins or anything but having an abundance mindset has always served me well. At the very least, it has certainly served me as an improviser. Or perhaps it has developed because I have been improvising for so long. In any case, practicing abundance through improvisation is a great way of stretching those muscles of imagination and creativity, and as Maya Agelou says You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” 

Free associating

When one first starts improvising, one of the first things to get used to is just ‘saying stuff.’ Opening your mouth and letting whatever falls out be enough. This can be hard after a lifetime of trying to say and do the right thing so any exercises that help loosen you up and get used to free associating are helpful. Here’s 3 of my go-tos. 

Point and say

  1. Alternating hands, point at as many things in the room as you can in one minute and say what they are out loud
  2. Alternating hands, point at things in the room. Start by saying nothing and then always be saying out loud the last thing you pointed at.
  3. Alternating hands, point at as many things in the room as you can in one minute and once again out loud say anything that they are NOT.

Word association

A very simple and extremely effective tool for starting the process of improvising or creative thinking. Great in a small group or even a pair when passed around like an imaginary ball. When you ‘catch’ the ball repeat the word you just heard, when you ‘throw’ it, say any associated word that comes into your head. I aways coach this to use the speed of the ball throwing to remove any time for thinking. 

Invisible box

In pairs, one person has one minute to pull as many imaginary objects as they can out of a large invisible box in front of them. Their partner is their cheerleader, giving words of encouragement or even prompts if helpful. E.g What’s that tiny/shiny/squidgy thing?

When both players have had a turn, there is the opportunity to do a shared version. Firstly at speed where you notice each other getting stuck and save each other. Another version is slower but pulling out associated objects. E.g you pull out a cup of tea, I then pull out a slice of cake and we sit down to afternoon tea.

A word on going blank

In people’s first ever improv sessions the universal fear seems to be this idea of going blank/drying up/not having anything good to say. Now, I cannot guarantee that they will not go blank, however I would say that in my experience it’s often not that people don’t have an idea but that they have lots of ideas that they quickly judge and discard before they say something. This is why I will always try to eliminate thinking time. It can seem like you have more time to think of something, but often it has the effect of giving more space to hate your idea and edit yourself.

The good news is, improv really can help silence that pesky inner critic. Plus most of the time, improv is highly collaborative so it’s never up to just one person to come up with all the ideas.

Developing Further

Once you have got a little more comfortable with free associating, it can be helpful to then start improvising category based games so that your brain starts to get used to clumping ideas together or accessing similar ideas quickly. 3 of my favourite exercises for this are

8 things

Person a gives person b a category e.g flowers and person b names 8 things in that category while person a counts them off e.g 

Person A: Daisy

Person B: 1 thing

Person A: Rose

Person B: 2 things

Person A: Petunia

Person B: 3 things

Etc. etc. At the end I like to get both players to chant ‘Those were 8 things’ while doing air punches, but hey, that bit is optional.

You can also have the category giver ask if their partner would like easy, medium or hard e.g easy = colours, medium = clothing designers, hard = number 1 singles of the 1980s.

No more BLANK

We think Jules invented this game but there are no original ideas and everything has already been invented so who knows? Anyway…

Players stand in a circle. 1 person names a category and gestures to someone across the circle who names something in that category and gestures to the next person and so on. If a player gets passed to and they cannot think of anything else in that category they joyfully shout ‘No more xxx’ and then start a new category. So it might go

Person 1: Makes of car (gesturing to next person across the circle)

Person 2: Toyota

Person 3: Nissan

Person 4: Mitsubishi

Person 5: No more cars! Things you could eat for breakfast…

I’m gonna need

Another circle game in which people make teeny tiny lists of 3 things. Person 1 walks up to person 2 and and says ‘I’m going to need a xxxx, I’m going to need a xxxx and I’m going to need a xxxx. Person 2 then takes the last thing on the list they just heard and uses it to create a new list for the next person. Here’s an example:

Person 1: I’m going to need some jelly, some ice-cream and a party hat

Person 2: I’m going to need a party hat, a top hat and a bobble hat

Person 3: I’m going to need a bobble hat, a pair of skis and a lot of snow

Etc etc.

Quite fun to have lots of these happening at once in a circle.

A word on getting things right

With category based games there can be the temptation to try and get things ‘correct.’ I believe that it’s the attempt at getting things right that is fun to watch. Also the letting go of it quickly when we realise we do not have to access to the information that we need in the moment. My favourite bits in these kind of games are when people surprise themselves, get creative or make things up when they don’t have the ‘right’ answer.  

Patterns and Re-combinations

Then once we’re getting into our categories we can try some more complex idea generation games. I say complex – these are still hopefully super simple but with an idea on developing the pattern recognition muscle a bit more

3 in a circle

Also known as ‘I am a tree’ this classic game has people stepping into a circle to make pictures of 3 ideas. When each person steps in they try to make the shape of what they are describing with their body.

‘I am a tree’

‘I am a branch’

‘I am a bird’

The first person (the tree) chooses which idea to keep ‘I’ll keep the bird,’ and the tree and branch leave. 

‘I am a bird’

I am a goldfish’

‘I am a pet shop’

‘I’ll keep the pet shop,’ says bird person. (and the bird and goldfish step out)

‘I am a pet shop’

‘I am a pot shop’

‘I am a pitch and putt’

And so on. The idea here is to try and pivot as much as possible to develop each picture so we don’t stay in the tree and forest world for too long e.g

‘I am a tree, I am a branch, I am a bird’ ‘I am a bird, I am a twig, I am a leaf’ ‘I am a leaf, I am a trunk, I am some bark’

Lists of lists

One person names the title of a list and the other improvisers populate the list e.g

‘Things not to do on a first date’ 

  1. Talk about your ex
  2. Propose marriage
  3. Crying

Then another improviser uses the last item on the original list as an item on a new list or lists


  1. Things you do when you’re sad
  2. Alternative words for shout
  3. Things that might happen as a result of chopping onions

You can alternate lists and items or do a full round of each or do it organically while you are on a roll or reach a dead end. But a fun way of moving back and forth between ideas. Can also be great inspiration for scenes or longform.


Far greater people than I have attempted and failed to explain this game clearly so here’s a great write up form the good folks at improv resource center (yes I did spell that right, it’s American) – safe to say, it’s an absolute banger of a game.

A word on being obvious

With all of these games it is super helpful to be ‘obvious’ Your obvious is not necessarily the same as everyone else’s idea of obvious. So what may seem simple and easy or even boring to you can be a delightful surprise to others. Keith Johnstone writes a lot about being obvious. It’s a whole other blog probably.

Thinking and writing about abundance and variety has made me realise how closely this sits alongside the idea of self judgement and the inner critic. As I said at the start I believe in abundance. In over 20 years of doing and teaching improv I have never yet met a human who isn’t chock full of brilliant and bonkers ideas once they get used to accessing them and sharing them, rather than keeping them locked up until a better one comes along. I hope games like the ones I’ve described here help you share yours (or have an abundance of laughter).


How to talk less in improvisation – a Poem

One of the first questions people ask when they find out I am an improviser is ‘What happens if you can’t think of anything to say?’ As if saying things is the most important part.

And it’s true: some improvisers tend to conflate how much dialogue one creates with how much one was ‘in’ the scene. Like they were cast in a play and, because they were given only a few written lines, thought their role wasn’t important. But I believe that in improv, the person not speaking can be the most important person on stage. They are the listener, the receiver, the one with the power to react. 

I love it when this happens in scripted film and theatre. For example:

In “No Country for Old Men”, Javier Bardem’s character silently intimidates a gas station attendant with just his menacing presence and the flip of a coin. The tension in the scene is palpable.

In “Lost in Translation”, when Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray’s character share a wordless goodbye at the end of the film. Their silent exchange speaks volumes about their connection and the bittersweet nature of their parting. 

In “Killing Eve”, Jodie Comer plays an enigmatic and multilingual assassin. Throughout the series, she often conveys extremely complex emotions silently, from moments of intense violence to vulnerable glimpses of her character’s humanity.

So, when teaching, I’ll often coach players to pause, and just to talk less. But that can create make people look worried or bored! Or like they are just waiting to say a thing that they had already thought of. 

Lord knows I’ve been in, and watched, improv that had a lot of talking but somehow nothing of any significance was said.

So here’s a little poem I wrote for those of us who sometimes struggle to find the quieter side of improv:


‘Shut up’ (Or how to talk less in improv’)


Stop talking. 
Focus outward.
On your partner, on the audience, on the environment, on the sounds in the room.
Focus inward.
How do you feel? How does your character feel? 
Take the emotional punch
Feel the souls of your feet on the ground. Notice how you are standing or sitting.
Express yourself using your face.
Express yourself using your body.
Is there something you need to say? Enjoy not saying it.
Want to say it. Long to say it. Be desperate to say it. Don’t say it.
Reach out
Look at the other person on stage. Look at their face, look at their eyes, look in their eyes if you can.
Connect with them.
Land in the moment.
Take the emotional punch.
Be still.


I hope this helps. And if you still don’t believe me I recommend checking out the following silent improv troupes, all of which uses silence in completely different ways:

ShhhI The Improvised Silent Movie (from Italy)

Speechless (from Canada and Colombia)

Hair me out (from the UK)

I hope to not speak to you soon!

5 Animals that are like Improvisers

This week is Animal Week at AndAlso (that means all our drop-in classes will have this theme). So to celebrate, here’s a list of 5 animals that are like improvisers. Both as performers and as characters.


(or ‘Peapocks’ as my 2-year-old Iggy calls them)

  • As performers – Improvisers can incorporate the vibrant and flamboyant displays of peacocks into their stage pictures, creating attention-grabbing and visually stunning performances.
  • As characters – There is much drama to be explored in characters competing for attention or admiration, much like peacocks displaying their feathers to attract mates. A bit like theatresports, in fact!


  • As performers – Octopuses are known for their problem-solving abilities and adaptability. Improvisers too, have the ability to ‘hold on tightly, let go lightly’. In other words, bring a strong offer to a scene, but adapt where necessary.
  • As characters – Octopuses can change their appearance and mimic other creatures. We too, can change voice and posture to inhabit other characters and creatures. Check out Susan Harrison and Andrew Gentilli’s show Beings if you want to see the ultimate example of this.


  • As performers – Ant colonies work together seamlessly. Improvisers also require high levels of trust, collaboration, and coordination, where we rely on each other to achieve a common goal.
  • As characters – Ant colonies have complex social hierarchies. This can be used to create characters with distinct roles and statuses within a group. For more, check out my previous blog on Status.


  • As performers – Cats are known for their grace and agility. Improvisers can aspire to embody these qualities and play with elegance and confidence, even when the inner critic is telling you to do something different!
  • As characters  – Cats are independent animals. Why not use the cat as inspiration for solo scenes and monologues?


  • As performers – Bee colonies operate as a single, interconnected unit. We improvisers might call this group mind; using flow state and strong collective consciousness to make decisions as a group.
  • As characters – Improvisers can explore relationship-based scenes with themes of cooperation and interdependence. Characters don’t always have to like each other but it’s useful when they need each other.

I have limited myself to 5 as I feel I could go on for far too long making comparisons between the animal kingdom and the realm of theatrical and comedic improvisation. Let me know which obvious ones I missed, and have fun getting animalistic!

Playing Status

If you ask an improviser to define status, I suspect many would struggle to pin it down. But I’m also willing to bet that most of them could show you status in a heartbeat. Because status, like stories and songs, is everywhere. It happens all the time in every interaction we have. We just sort of know how to do it.

Think about your status in your job, a social club you’re in, or even your family; you probably have a sense of where you sit in the pecking order. I have a friend who is so aware of status that every time she enters a room she ranks people in her head, numbering everyone off and working out where she sits in a group. If you don’t think about your status perhaps you’re the effortlessly high-status one? This isn’t intended as a slight. You can be a generous beautiful soul who is extremely high status (like Barack Obama in this clip here). And you can play a low-status person who is unpleasant, selfish, and unkind. If we detach status from being negative or positive, it may help us play with it even more in our improv workshops, rehearsal rooms, and shows.

Personally, I think status is a great tool for establishing relationships and dynamics in improvisation. So let’s get into it.

Status Indicators

Playing at the extremes of status can be a great way to start. We often share this list of status indicators to break down how one can improvise status.

High StatusLow Status
Talking SlowTalking Fast
Complete, clear sentencesBroken, qualified sentences
Pause mid-sentencePause at the start of sentence
Symmetrical, open bodyAsymmetrical, closed body
Straight spineCurved spine
Smooth movementJerky movement

It’s certainly not an exhaustive list and there are always exceptions. But if someone says be high or low status, the list above is a good place to start.

The Three Types of Status

The above are great shortcuts for showing status, but what if we’re looking to play a more nuanced version, or a character that will sustain for a show rather than a scene?

In Will Storr’s book The Status Game, he talks about 3 status ‘games’


Perhaps the type of high status we see most often in television and film, this is the type of status most often discussed in improv. Think about ‘House of Cards’ or ‘Succession’ or films like ‘Goodfellas’, or even ‘The Devil Wears Prada’. Status through dominance is the uglier side of humanity. Great for playing villains, but I would recommend exercising extreme caution in an improv setting where players do not know each other well and have not set boundaries and expectations for the group.


In this version of status, you win by being good at what you’re doing. The fastest runner, the most strategic chess player, the baker with the perfect souffle. I find that focusing on these details can really help with the specifics of building more fully rounded characters, especially in a narrative improv show. There is a potential pitfall though: just talking about the big football game rather than about the interpersonal dynamics onstage can shift the focus away from the scene. Be the best, but make that mean something too. 


Inverting status, where the expected status of characters is reversed can often lead to the unexpected. It’s naturally comic. There are whole character-worlds based on this (‘Jeeves and Wooster’, ‘Black Adder’ and, more recently, Dina and Glenn in ‘Superstore’).

Playing scenes with flipped status is one of my favourite things to do in a status workshop. Here are a few favourites:

  • Low-status boss and high-status interviewee
  • Low-status school teacher and high-status pupil
  • Low-status bank robber and high-status cashier
  • Low-status royalty and high-status servant

Change and the Future

Of course, status is never static. Some of the best characters undergo change and this often comes with a rise or a fall in status. A big change in status can make for great comedy or deep tragedy depending on how you play it. How does changing status several times in one scene compare with one status change over the course of a full show?

As a performer and teacher, I’m trying to keep learning all the time. So In researching for our last course we also read Cecilia L Ridgeway’s book Status: Why is it everywhere? Why does it matter? Thinking more deeply about this subject has been interesting and thought-provoking in a way that makes me aspire to find more subtlety and sensitivity in my status work.

Both Del Close and Keith Johnstone talked a lot about status in their work. But improvisation itself has changed a lot since the 70s and 80s. Thankfully in our communities, there has been a shift towards an emphasis on inclusivity and psychological safety. So I would gently say to any improviser, particularly those in a position of power themselves (as a teacher or coach) to hold an awareness and care in status work. Taking into consideration that we all bring different life experiences into the rehearsal room  means status and power have different connotations for each of us.

As Cecilia Ridgeway says ‘status is everywhere’. Whether we like it or not. Status is pervasive and powerful but status can be challenged and changed.

Getting emotional

Confession: I’m a very emotional person. Watching my 2 year old son trying to blow seeds off a dandelion makes me squeal in delight. Trying to insert a signature into a PDF will make me fly into a rage. A grey haired sweet old dog shuffling slowly along in the park during their last days and clearly adored by it’s owner will bring a tear to my eye.

So yeah, I’m emotional. I have been told this all my life. The negative version; drama queen, attention seeker, too much. The positive version; sensitive, empathic, not afraid to express yourself.

Also, if you didn’t know, I’m British. Let’s face it, we Brits have a somewhat complicated relationship with our emotions. In thinking about this article I came across this report by The Social Issues Research Centre all about the emotional state of our nation. TLDR – we’re not very good at expressing ourselves. As a highly expressive person in a mostly buttoned down and ‘stiff upper lip’ culture I don’t always go down well!

But whatever you think, this sure has been a gift for me as an improviser. Put emotion into a scene and everything flows from there. Have an emotional reaction to anything and something is already happening. An expected reaction or an unexpected one, it doesn’t matter. If your character feels and cares, it’s likely that the audience will too.

The trouble with being an improv teacher who is also a very emotional person however, is that it’s not that easy to teach something you do so unconsciously. Joe Samuel, the improv musician I work with most, has perfect pitch. So when he is training up other improvising musicians there is a whole section of their experience of learning that he is not able to identify or help with. Unless of course they are lucky enough to have perfect pitch too. I wonder if this is similar for me and explaining my feelings about feeling. Perhaps I have perfect pitch when it comes to playing the emotional keyboard.

That being said, over the years I’ve tried to learn the best I can to teach the thing I do most and know the least about how I do it. So here’s a few ways of improvising with emotion.

Name It

If you’ve ever been in therapy (heyo) you’ll know that one thing you’re encouraged to do is name your feelings. Like many things in therapy (a whole other blog by the way) this is also great advice for improv. But what if you don’t know how to do that? What other emotions are there other that happy, sad and angry?

A tool I’ve used a lot is the emotions wheel. There are lots of varying versions of this available online but the one below is a well known one used by psychologists (and now improvisers) to help people identify their feelings.

Pick an emotion, start a scene and see where it goes. This is also good for getting really specific with your choices. Don’t play happy, play peaceful. Don’t play Angry, play resentful etc. If it’s really challenging, you can start in the areas you find easy and work round. If emotion is not a thing you do in improv ever you might want to layer this on top of all your improv exercises for a while, get it into your muscle memory. So even if you’re working on something more technical like edits or game of the scene or narrative, you can still add some emotion in there.

Show it

‘This is all very well’ I hear you cry, but how? Luckily many great people have many great resources on this. A couple here:

Nice article on breaking emotions down into physical actions like breathing and posture. Perhaps extra useful for teachers when sidecoaching. So rather than say ‘be more sad’ you might say ‘sigh, turn away, move slowly.’ More and better examples are in the article.

Along similar lines the late great Keith Johnstone also has a lovely concept of fast food Stanislavsky. Rather than purely physical actions, these are lists of behaviours that all add up to a larger motivation e.g to appear happy and contented with everything = Indulge yourself (chocolates, drinks, etc.), pet an animal, dance, sing. Again, tons more at the link below.

Also, as above, pick an emotion, try it on, stretch it around. I find status is often taught on a 1 to 10 scale but I find this useful for emotion work too. If you’re required to have a huge emotional reaction you could start at level 1 and work your way up to 10, especially if having a big explosion is not something you ever do.

Do It

I know there are tons of improv games and exercises that use emotions but here are a few of my all-time favourites.

Emotion swap

Two characters start a scene with contrasting emotions e.g. a guilty student and an angry teacher during detention. The scene ends when they have swapped emotions. Can be a slow journey or a sudden flip. Play around with it.


One player is given a gesture e.g. polishing their glasses, the other an emotion e.g. despair. Starting the scene from neutral emotion, every time the first person polishes their glasses, the other sinks deeper into despair.

Emotional rollercoaster

Get a location, start a scene, and an outside director calls out a series of different emotions. The players keep changing how they feel but justify why in the scene. For a show, the audience can suggest emotions.

It’s Tuesday

Players stand in a circle. One walks over to another using their walk and expression and noises to convey an attitude or emotion. They stop in front of someone across from them

Person a: It’s Tuesday

Person b: It’s Tuesday and you are feeling x (name emotion) because y (a specific reason)

Person b then continues around the circle.

On the second round the players mirror each other and the dialogue becomes

Person a: It’s Tuesday

Person b: It’s Tuesday and WE’RE feeling x (name emotion) because y (a specific reason)

These can continue into short scenes

Emotional overreaction

One person says the most boring line of dialogue they can think of. The other goes to 11 on the emotion amplifier. Can be an unexpected reaction or expected. Can be a quick 2 line scene drill or a scene start. Always funny or surprising, every time.

So there we have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed my journey through emotions and improv. Now please excuse me, I’m off to happy-cry at a youtube video of Otters holding hands.

We have a new syllabus!

Before I tell you about the new syllabus we are creating, let me share some of the most wonderful improv scenes I have witnessed. In no particular order: ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, ‘Chris fails to go back in time’, ‘Pick up the letter!’, ‘the Death of the Queen’s Consort’, ‘Two Other Bears’, ‘a Method Director’, ‘Tene mi Brache’, ‘Lots and lots of moxy and a twelve inch dick’, and ‘Proust improvised by those who haven’t read him’. Just a few without thinking much about it. Now, unless you were there for any of them, that list probably didn’t make much sense. It almost certainly wasn’t very fun. Because improv is a very wasteful artform. However beautiful, hilarious, spine-tingling or just plain satisfying these scenes were, they have now passed into the ether, reduced to a memory fragment I struggle to explain the joy of, a story that can (at best) be nodded along to. It’s one of the reasons cooperation in improv can be so challenging. Unless you were there, you weren’t there (man). The most enthusiastic description can only communicate so much.

But what does this have to do with the new syllabus?

Our aim in rewriting the syllabus is not to define the best form of improv, but create a set of habits and ideas that a community can form around. Just because a restaurant specilises in sushi, doesn’t mean the chef hates roasts or thinks fried rice is morally suspect. But you can’t git gud if you keep changing everything. Of course there are many other ways to make things up, but like the rifle in ‘Full Metal Jacket’, this is ours.

So what will the AndAlso style be? Well, we’re working that out, piece by piece. It’s not an instant process and it wouldn’t be interesting if it were. Our influences are the connectedness and group work of iO, the physical boldness of Carpe Haute and Teatribu, the unselfish selfishness of the Annoyance, the rigour of Razowsky, the sheer infectious delight of Jill Bernard. Oh, and the professionalism of the Showstoppers, the relentless open-eyed curiosity of PGraph (and the Hideout Theatre in general), and the freeform sugar-rush of Improv Boston. I could add and add to that list. Heather and I get enthusiastic about things, and we want them all to be part of what we do. It’s a fault and we’re working on it. But as we start running shows and jams, this hodge-podge will boil down into something clearer, less cerebral. In time, things should just start to feel AndAlso-ish.

With all this in mind, we are doubling (you heard that right) the length of our courses to twelve weeks, running in line with the school terms (including a week off for half term). We believe staying together for longer periods of time will build group trust and a shared vocabulary. A plan for a six-level system, means a core syllabus of two years, with teams and advanced classes after that. It’s ambitious, but we don’t expect to do it faster than it can be done. At the moment, we are building the ‘how’ and trusting that the ‘what’ will come.

There is, of course, a danger that all this feels like gatekeeping. A Doomsday cult with T-shirts. (Improv and Scientology are very amusingly elided in a few episodes of Bojack Horseman – you should watch them.) But our syllabuses will not be hard-edged prescriptive. Our aim is to be an inspiration, not a straitjacket. Something that creates just enough agreement for us to work together, always with space for what the teacher brings and what the students love. And to make sure our students get a range of points of view, we will be rotating teachers every term and welcoming guest improvisers from across the world. Heather and I will run the company but never assume that we have all the answers. The balance that is the very origin of the AndAlso name.

(For anyone worried about the affordability of longer courses, we are making fees payable in installments and dropping the concessionary rate to half of the full rate. We will also be making scholarship places bookable on the site without any application process. We have to keep the lights on, but we know money is tight for a lot of people. Again, balance.)

It would be easy here to get lost in the decisions and improvements we have made and want to make. I am excited about them and the details are, in the end, the design. But the heart of it all is this: In any art, you have to build your taste. To see and do enough that you can distinguish between what you do not like, and what is not good. It would be naive to pretend that Heather and my taste will not be a big part of how we build the new school. At least at the beginning. But as we grow, it will create an eco-system (as I wrote in my last blog), where improvisers are able to collect their own best-of lists. This (people will say) is the kind of thing they do there. In the end, it will come from everyone.

Below is the first draft of our level flow, clumsy over-precise titles and all. There is more work to be done on it (especially the titles), and a lot more work to be done on the syllabuses themselves. I present it here so you know where we are. This is where we are.

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Improvisation and Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome. The feeling that you’re a fraud, that everyone is going to ‘find you out’ and that you don’t deserve to be here. Hands up who’s experienced this? I know I have. I’ve had a lot of it the last couple of years. Passing my driving test, buying a house, having babies; these are all things a real adult does, and I’m convinced that’s not me, though my date of birth would strongly suggest I should know what I’m doing by now.

This, my first blog for AndAlso, is giving me impostor syndrome. ‘But Jules always writes blogs, Jules is the eloquent one who reads books, I am just the charming clown’ says the voice in my head. Hey, at least the voice in my head thinks I’m charming.

Isn’t it funny the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves?

I think this is why I fell in love with improvisation. I was studying physical theatre and I was terrible at it (let’s rephrase that – I wasn’t a natural. I struggled and had much to learn). When we had a guest tutor, Kevin Tomlinson, come in and open up the world of Improvisation for us, I was giddy with the liberation of not being able to get it wrong. In fact, a step further than that – getting it wrong was in fact suddenly right. Mistakes were opportunities and messing things up was in fact hilarious.

It’s the best feeling in the world and the reason I love teaching improvisation. However, like all good drugs, the feeling wears off over time and the very thing that attracted you to improv in the first place comes back to bite you. Your inner critic is louder than ever.

I think one reason for this is the conscious incompetence part of learning anything.

‘In conscious incompetence, the learner is aware of a skill or knowledge gap and understands the importance of acquiring the new skill.’

Suddenly it goes from ‘just making up any old thing’ to understanding some of the tools and techniques of the art form and wanting it to be good. Alas, wanting your improvisation to be good can be the kiss of death. Have you ever wanted to have a clear mind during a meditation session on a peaceful day or beat your personal best on a run when you’re at your peak fitness? Sometimes, it just ain’t happening.

However, the good news is that if you can embrace improvising for the process not the product, for the sheer joy of it, you can keep that pesky inner critic at bay.

Like any kind of regular exercise, sometimes going back to the basics is a great way to focus the mind. So here are my 3 tips to keep that beginner’s mind when improvising:

1. Get rid of the question mark

I notice a lot when teaching that people present their ideas with a great big question mark at the end of their sentence. Signalling to themselves and others that anything they are doing is terrible. It’s almost always brilliant, it’s just the conviction that’s missing. So try to love your ideas like the helpless new puppies they are, and get rid of the question mark.

2. Focus outward

If loving your own ideas takes a while then never fear, just try loving someone else’s. Treating each other as geniuses, artists and poets is central to the ethos of theatrical improvisation (thank you, Del Close). Stop, listen and ‘yes and’ your partner with everything you’ve got.

3. Accept failure

You are a fraud, you’re an impostor, You have no idea what you’re doing.

Of course you are! You’re literally making this stuff up. But guess what? So is everyone else. I hope there’s a comfort in that.