Improvisation and Sustainability
The biggest joke of all, it turns out, was that our planet’s resources are infinite. As our planet heats up, and fossil fuels are used up, we are being forced to think of our wellbeing not in terms of how much money we make or merely the absence of disease, but as a measure of how sustainable we can make the resources we have.
Just as improvisational techniques mirror important life skills – looking for agreement not conflict, making active not passive choices, etc. – so improv done well presents us with perspectives for how to live more sustainably. In fact, improvisational theater is, at its very core, about our relationship to the environment. From its early days, when the masters of the form stressed “getting out of our heads and into the space”, making our imaginations environmental has been a major part of improvisational training.
Here are just a few of the ways in which improv is not only about being funny, but also about creating on the stage a model for a more sustainable way to be in the world.
1) You can improvise anywhere – beautiful theater not required! Get a room, push the furniture back, use a few folding chairs, imagine any environment, conjure any prop out of thin air as needed, and you’ve got as low-maintenance a potentially mind-blowing theatrical experience as you could hope for.
2) Improv is all about recycling ideas. Long form improv especially is at its best when so-called “originality” is put aside in favor of making connections and honoring callbacks. It doesn’t waste anything of value. Improvisational theater is a lesson in sustainability because you conserve unnecessarily expended mental energy by not trying to be clever, and you make it easier on yourself by honoring the ideas of others.
3) Improv demands that you honor the space. When improvisers talk about agreement vs. denial, often it is only thought of in terms of verbal denial. But just as bad is denying a physical reality established by the other player. If someone sets up a “space table” in the middle of a room, and you walk through that table, it’s as much a denial as if you said, to use another classic example, “… but we don’t have any kids.”
It may be no coincidence that at this time of shrinking resources and expanding challenges to our well-being and very existence, improvisation is growing so rapidly as a pop culture art form. In a scary unsafe world, improvisational theater is all about listening, paying attention and cooperating to create a safe space. It is, at its best, about working and playing simply to be creative, spontaneous, and… sustainable.