You might know that I host Saturday Night Tightrope at The Institution Theater, and you might have figured out that this opening sentence is a plug, but I assure you that it is more than that. There is a reason that I host Saturday Night Tightrope. It’s because it’s important for improvisers to perform and ALSO to watch improv on a regular basis. That is what Saturday Night Tightrope is for, and that is what this blog post is reminding you of. So, while it might seem like I am promoting a show that individuals can submit for by clicking here  with group submissions found by clicking here and a Facebook link and Do512 link, the truth is that I am trying to help you become a better improviser.

Improvisers need to perform in shows. The rehearsal process is great, and can be very rewarding, but the real reward is that instant that you forget everything that you have learned and play. That moment that you surprise yourself with a line of unexpected dialogue, or a character you never thought you were capable of is born out of necessity. That moment that you come offstage and look at your friends and say the three words all improvisers love to hear, “That was fun.” Getting to the fun, however, takes time, effort, rehearsal, study, and performance reps.

Improvisers need to perform with people that they don’t know. Performing with the same team each week is a dream scenario for many improvisers, but it can also become it’s own challenge. It is important to play with people that you don’t know because they perform in ways you don’t expect. The way that you respond to the uncertainty will make you a better player. You will become more confident. You will become more supportive. You will become an improviser that can actually improvise.

Improvisers need to watch improv, the good and the bad. You can learn from watching good shows. You can learn a lot from watching bad shows. You can learn about your own personal taste, or about moments that seem honest and moments that do not. You can learn about styles of improv, comedic timing, patterns, rhythm, and the music of the audience. You can learn about formats, about acting, about trust. You can learn about your fellow performers, your future friends, and you can learn about yourself. You CAN learn by watching improv.

Growing up, I played baseball. I was third base and catcher, and later on outfielder. I was fast, and a decent hitter, but I needed a lot of work. I had a coach who had coached a kid who would later become a pro player give me some advice about how to improve my baseball game. He told me to “look to the pro players and find a player that plays a style that you like, and emulate that style, then find a player who is similar to you in size and shape and emulate that style too. That way in practice you can model your play off of play that is already successful while you develop your own style.”

I think that we can do something similar as improvisers. We can come to the Saturday Night Tightrope and play, and watch, and get better. We can model our play off of other styles that we like, and learn by watching, and by performing with people that we have just met.

Just don’t forget to invite one friend.

Clifton Highfield