Guest column: Learning life lessons through improv |

Guest column: Learning life lessons through improv

You might not know it to look at me, but I’ve taken an improvisational theater class. No, really. I used to watch improv shows in awe, thinking “How do they do that? I could never do that.”

You know how crazy improv seems — simple prompts like “grocery store” whipped into fantastic escapades, fairy tales told in two minutes or less — all spontaneous. Improv seemed to me the pinnacle of acting challenges, far beyond my modest stage dreams. My biggest role since high school was Sleepy the Dwarf in an acting club lunchtime show. I think I had one line, and someone had to remind me to say it.

One day, however, in my non-acting life, I learned about this fundamental concept of improvisation called “yes, and … ” It was in a work-sponsored training on presentation skills. The teacher introduced the technique to help us answer questions from an audience.

“Yes, and … ” means you accept whatever your improv partner says, then build on it. Your partner’s idea is the prompt for what you say next. You don’t have to worry about coming up with a good idea — all ideas work in improv.

Suddenly realizing improv might be for me, I signed up for beginning improvisation last year at Lake Tahoe Community College. I soon noticed I could apply what I learned to many situations, including public speaking, management and even parenting.

“My room is clean,” my 12-year-old son would announce. Instead of looking at the clothes still piled on the floor and pronouncing, “No, it’s not!” I might say, “Yes, and it looks like that laundry in the corner still needs to get picked up, too.”

At work, “yes, and … ” was great for getting a group to use each other’s good ideas and build them into something that no single person could have come up with alone. Improv helps people look for the workable element of any suggestion and improve upon it.

Theater classes offer many skills applicable on and off the stage. Acting requires good listening, and it generates trust and confidence in yourself and others. Also, movement combined with speaking is a great physical and emotional energizer.

Finally, thinking about the motivations and backgrounds of the characters you portray in an acting class develops your ability to better communicate on issues of importance to you, whether at home, work or with friends. Throughout the class I took, I saw myself and other students grow more creative and bolder with our ideas, while having a lot of fun together.

The Lake Tahoe Community College may close its Theater Arts Department at the end of this year due to low enrollment. If you’ve ever considered taking an improvisation or theater class, or if you love acting and want to do more, why not sign up now?

Four classes will be offered this winter: improvisation for all levels; intro to theater (online); performance “love/sick;” and stage production techniques. Classes at LTCC start Jan. 9. For more information and to register go to

Karen Fink is a South Lake Tahoe resident.

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