Improv and Natural Selection
One of my favorite interviews from one of my favorite TV interview shows is Charlie Rose’s December 2005 interview of Drs. E.O. Wilson and Nobel Laureate James Watson, discussing the life and work of Charles Darwin.
Charlie Rose asked them their thoughts on the next evolutionary step for mankind. They both agreed that evolutionary science is moving in the direction of the coming together of cultural, biological and psychological science. Watson theorized that mankind as a species, even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes, has gotten less violent over the last 20,000 years. He goes on to say that for the first time in history more people live in urban areas than in rural and that natural selection favors people who can get along in communities. To paraphrase one of the greatest improvisers of all time, Elaine May, “… And that man is a Nobel Laureate!”
So, in thinking how this applies to the work we do in improvisational theater, it seems to me that playing agreement rather than conflict, trusting each other, working as part of a team, and the idea that “you do your best work by making the other player look good” can help us not only have fun on stage, get laughs and meet new people, but also puts us on the right side of natural selection and squarely in the middle of an evolutionary trend. So the next time you say “yes, and…” think of it not only as good improv in the moment, but also as a long-term evolutionary survival mechanism. Don’t play conflict, play agreement – it’s your responsibility to the other players, to the improvisation, and to our offspring fifty generations from now. Having said that, just relax and play. No pressure.