Feb 19, 2020–With less than a week before their first performance, the inaugural class of In The Moment Improv did not even have a name. No one was worried. After all, it is an “improv” group, and stepping on stage immersed in uncertainty is sort of their raison d’etre.
Directing this group of nine brave souls with no name is Brandon Dickerson. He really is a director, as in, listed on IMDB, with four feature films, countless commercials and music videos, promotions for Disney and Pixar, and winner of the Cannes Gold Lion.
Improv was nowhere on his impressive resume a year before starting up this group in his new hometown of Fredericksburg. Then last January he started taking a class at the Bexar Stage in San Antonio. He was so enamored he drove three hours to take a weekly three-hour class for a year. It became something he “fell in love with and wanted to share.”
“I’ve been a director for over 20 years, and have always been behind the camera,” he explained. After a two-year hiatus to serve as Director of Laity Lodge, he decided to go back into film. “The first thing I did was sign up for that improv class. As a director, I worked with so many actors who talked about improv. As a writer, I was interested in it for its creative spark.”
Improv, for those who don’t know, is a theatrical form that is unscripted. Everything presented to the audience–dialogue, action, characters, storyline–is created spontaneously on stage as it happens.
Most of us recognize the form from TV shows such as Whose Line Is It Anyway, where premises are thrown at a small cast that is expected to perform on the spot. It’s usually played for humor, but doesn’t have to be.
While Dickerson’s original motivation was to seek inspiration for his work, he discovered that doing improv held unexpected applications off the stage.
“What surprised me was that I immediately saw the life skills benefits of the form,” Dickerson said. “In my class, there were aspiring actors. But there were also people overcoming debilitating social anxiety. What it did for me creatively, I saw the class was going through in terms of personal growth.”
This was echoed by those in his Hill Country workshop. One student described how taking the class helped him over come his natural shyness. Another shared how it improved his ability to approach clients with more confidence. One was already an accomplished musician, who took the class to help him be “more spontaneous and responsive” while performing.
“The growth over six weeks is something I never could have imagined,” Dickerson said. “I am so humbled by it.”
The most inspiring example of fundamental change came from outside the class.
“A spouse of a student shared with me that the workshop was improving their marriage. I was holding back tears.”
For all its emotional power, that is not an unusual outcome. It’s all about listening. Or rather, hyper-listening.
“Yes, we practice a ton of hyper-listening,” he said. “There’s a game where you form a circle and announce a theme, say ‘things you find in a garden.’ You have to listen and make eye contact and repeat the pattern. Then we throw out a different theme. The lists overlap, so you have to hyper-listen to keep up.”
In improv, that dynamic plays out on stage.
“If someone says you are at the beach, you have to use that. If someone says your name is Susie, you have to remember your name is Susie. I might send them home with an assignment where you don’t ‘listen in order to talk,’ you just listen.”
Ultimately, doing improv is about “failing with freedom.”
“In most of our lives, we don’t have a playground where failure is on the menu. At the first class I say, you are going to fail several times every day in this class. If you don’t, then you are not doing improv. So fail hard, and move on. We all have each other’s backs.”
That attitude is liberating, on and off the stage.
“It is huge. We spend so much time regretting the past and worrying about the future. Improv forces you to be completely in the moment. It is so healthy, it is so good for you. In fact, that is why I’ve decided to call this new venture In The Moment Improv.”
He has seen the growth in himself, and now in his students. Dickerson is mostly amazed by how his crazy idea has taken hold. In a way, creating this class is modeling the philosophy of improv.
“I didn’t think anyone would sign up. But the first thing you learn in improv is to say ‘yes, and.’ So this class was my ‘yes, and.’ A bunch of people signed up, and completely dove in. To work together six weeks then do a show as a connected community, I never could have imagined. I’m so inspired by them.”
The best way to experience improv is to, well, experience improv. So you can sign up for the next class, or come to the next show.
“Get off the couch, turn off Netflix–unless it’s one of my movies–and come out and be surprised. It’s going to be a blast.”
Maybe by then they will have improvised a name.
Side Street Events presents Improv LIVE on Wed, Feb 19, 7 p.m. at Rockbox Theater in Fredericksburg. Performance will include professional staff and students from Bexar Stage, as well as the Level One (No Name) Grad Performance.
Tickets at http://InTheMomentImprov.eventbrite.com and at the door.
New Intro Classes start March 2 and a Family Fun Improv Bootcamp will be Saturday, March 21. To enroll, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.