I started to feel a stagnation in impro. I have a hypothesis that this is natural and expected. Let’s see why.
Impro for fun
I personally haven’t met that many groups doing deliberate practice in impro. It looks like accepting random participants into the workshops makes this impossible. In order to deliberately practice people must be heavily motivated and focused. In the end newcomers may not even like impro at all, thus, it makes no sense for them to exert that much effort. I speculate that one needs closed meetings (e.g. invite only, where all members have to accept a new member) to do deliberate practice. As a result, 99% of workshops I have been to are meant for fun and laughing. It is mostly about using the skills you already have and not that much about improving them.
Progress in impro
I haven’t started that long ago, so I don’t know how this works in the long term. However, I clearly observed that initially one just removes their own inner blocks and starts risking to experiment and make mistakes. This is the first stage in impro growth. In the beginning one is scared to look weird, to be misunderstood, to accidentally insult someone. Step by step these blocks get removed and finally one builds almost a direct channel of their inner creativity to execution. This feels like an enormous growth. I think initially at my first impro workshops I only observed others and minimized my interactions (i.e. I did anything only when necessary). I never volunteered and didn’t express myself without an external demand. However, already in couple weeks I started to understand that everyone accepts whatever I do and no one uses that against others. People don’t use what you do (especially if you fail) to evaluate you as a person. That’s very popular outside of impro and I get this reaction often when I tell people about impro. E.g. I say that one needs a special very understanding group, because some stuff may look crazy. Others often reply something like “oh, yeah, people have weird stuff inside them which just comes out”. That’s a wrong way to look at it.
This expectation of no judging helps enormously to progress at first. Basically you just unlock your skills which you already have - acting, singing, story telling, dancing. Everyone has them developed to some degree, people are just too shy to use them.
Once you get to this level (at a very high speed), you reach a plateau. Removing inner blocks is not easy, but it is reasonably fast. And you see very rapid results. Developing the base skills (e.g. acting) is quite slow. Much slower than removing the blocks. Moreover, the fun workshops work even better for removing the blocks (people care less about the process or results, it is less painful when you screw up), they don’t help much with developing the underlying skills. I can clearly see that some other people seem to perform much better (the result is more interesting), but I can’t reverse engineer why. There is too much indirection - they just perform a random scene involving a lot of elements - the problem gets too hard to reverse engineer.
I speculate that I am at this level right now. It feels like standing at one spot. My impressions is that I perform consistently better than when I started, but I don’t see that much growth anymore. Occasionally people mention little details which could be improved, but this happens somewhat rarely.
Also I have no clue where this will bring me or whether I will be able to overcome this plateau. I didn’t plan to take acting classes (and still don’t). I also didn’t expect that this would be needed for getting better at impro (pardon so naive me). Thus, let’s just see.
What is “better”?
At the same time, what does it even mean to become better at impro? I think everyone has their own goals. E.g. if people play impro games without an audience and never intend to perform, then it could be just “having more fun”. If they plan to perform with audience, then the criterion must be “more interesting to observe”. Since each workshop usually has “temporary audience” (other participants who don’t take part in the scene), the second criterion feels much more common. For “having more fun” case, you probably need a very small group of e.g. 2-4 people.
However, “more interesting to observe” does not help much to grow. It is not obvious that better acting will be that much more interesting to observe. One definitely needs more peculiar and interesting ideas in order for the resulting scene to be interesting. I am not aware of any skill outside of impro directly targeting this area. Perhaps this is the gist of impro and one can improve it only be doing and observing more impro.
Overall impro is a lot of fun for me, so I do plan to continue. I can’t say that my main goal is to grow. Just having fun is already good enough. Thus, I will just proceed as it is and see whether I keep having no progress. If this persists for long time and becomes not fun anymore, I will re-evaluate the situation.
Happy growth in impro!