I’ve long been a fan of taking classes to learn new skills, and working to improve my life by building better habits. After seven years of studying improvisational theater, I can point to so many ways it has helped develop every areas of my life.  And made my life better.  Enormously better! Like my world changed from mono to stereo!   It all started with taking Improv Classes, and after years of practicing and playing, it’s about living the Improv Life!

Here are my Top 10 Life Enhancing Habits I’ve Learned From Taking Improv Classes & Living the Improv Life:

#10 – Laughter. All the fun games and scenes, in so many classes over the years. So much joy and silliness in shows. Fun writing scripted pieces, and how well making top ten lists of everything jumpstarts my creativity for writing.  I now notice happy moments in general, too – like at Costco when Darrell the fish monger whoops aloud, and customers whoop back, one of them a child – and I’m more inclined to join in.

#9 – Deeply Felt Moments. There are serious moments within almost all improv shows, even though they are also very funny. The connection of this art to what is truly important in life. Here’s a line of Shana Merlin (Merlin Works)’s from a show several years back which I still adore: “Our lives are like Sanka! We keep adding things, and it doesn’t get any better!”

#8 – Playing Dress Up!  I adore dressing up to be in an Improv show, or even to simply to attend a show for that matter!  Everything from buying Luis (my husband and fellow improvisor) a skipper hat because his troupe Dumbasses was presenting an award at the 2013 TITies (The Institution Theater = TIT… get it?) Award Ceremony, to having a place where I can wear the really gigantic fascinator (the blue one with rhinestones) and fit in socially.  That’s how the Improv community and The Institution Theater rolls!  I’ve tried wearing that same fascinator to The State Theater, but it just wasn’t the same.

#7 – Variety.  I always having a lot of different shows to choose from.  Some weekends it’s not even possible to see everything I want to, for sheer lack of time. This is the Golden Age of Improv, especially in Austin, Texas!  So much talent, so much strong work.  The improvisors in Austin are astounding!

#6 – The Community.  The Improv community in Austin is made up of different people from different walks of life.  One of the main things to note is how broad the age bracket of this community is.   My husband Luis  I have made friends with people, and then discovered that they attended high school with our eldest son!  And another guy we met through Improv used to work at Les Amis, the old restaurant we worked at back in the 80’s when we were in college.   And there was another fella that was in a punk band we used to go see at Raul’s!  There are college students in this community up through people who are 60+!  When you enter the Improv community you will never lack new, unique friends!

#5 – The Kindness and Generosity of the Improv Community.  Every day, improvisors who want supportive words, help moving something, help make things or to work on an upcoming show, can ask for what they need and the response from the community will arise immediately!  If they are in need, they will receive the help they have asked for.  These are people who like each other.  It is so wholesome to be around this kind of energy.

#4 – A New Awareness of Fun.  In my house, I am now more aware of opportunities for fun, and ways to play with my family.  When something nice happens, I dance for a long time, like a sparkly unicorn glitter rainbow!

#3 – New Ways to Engage My Mom.  With my aging mother, who lives with profound dementia, I now have new ways to connect with her in an engaging and playful way. For example, she gets vicious about cars parked in the loading zone at her care facility: “I want to slash their tires!” Before improv, I used to say, “now, I’m sure they’ll be back in a minute, that they have some good reason” etc. And she’d just get angrier.  Now I say, “Let’s slash their tires, and put a bumper sticker on their car that says, ‘Democratic Socialism? Yes, please’.”  This makes her laugh, and stop being angry.

#2 – Body Awareness.  The physicality of improv has made me more aware of my body, such that I’m now exploring new ways to move, slowly and with an emotionally open heart, through my household chores. Improv is my new yoga!

#1 – Improv Helps My Focus, Energy and Authenticity.   Improv and the physicality of the art form has helped me start connecting to others with more focus and energy, while remaining authentic. I’m aware, at a kind of exacto-knife level, of tiny physical responses to whatever’s going on – like a mouth movement, or even just an inhale of breath.  I can follow that physical movement to find the emotional underpinning to it, and decide what I want to do with that, in ordinary life as well as in Improv scenes.

So there it is.  Art is a powerful source for good, in all the ways!  This list only begins to chart what’s happened in my life since Improv entered into it.

The motto of The Institution Theater is “Get Committed.”  I’m doing that. I’ll be developing my improv skills for the rest of my life, and doing all I can to help the improv community in Austin thrive!

Written by Jessica Salinas