I stumbled across this article from late 2003 where Tina Fey elaborates on the improv philosophy, and how its framework is really a template for conducting one’s life. This philosophy says that what we create together with others, particularly when created in the moment – without premeditation or unbending expectation – is likely to be infinitely more interesting than what we create on our own. And that this process inherently requires two or more disparate – even discordant – ideas. The purpose isn’t to have one idea conform with the other, or to meet at false middles. Rather, it’s to think about how the collision might spark something entirely unexpected and new. An authentic third idea, maybe.
The possibilities of this framework are endless, actually. Such opportunities arise every day, in every encounter we have with another being. It makes me realize that my life is an embarrassment of unused riches. The question is, am I ready for them? Am I paying attention?
Perhaps the primary value of a real education isn’t to unpack who you are or who I am, but rather to consider what we have already created simply by both existing (subconsciously, mostly), and then to imagine the possibilities of what we can create by existing together with awareness.
Dense (and abstract) for a weekday, I know.
While Fey’s wisdoms in this interview pertain largely to writing and acting, they can easily be applied to our human endeavor to connect and create. I encourage everyone to take a gander.
Some salient passages:
When I started, improv had the biggest impact on my acting. I studied the usual acting methods at college, but none of it really clicked for me. My problem with the traditional acting method was that I never understood what you were supposed to be thinking about when you’re onstage. But at Second City, I learned that your focus should be entirely on your partner. You take what they’re giving you and use it to build a scene. That opened it up for me. Suddenly it all made sense. It’s about your partner. Not what you’re going to say, not finding the perfect mannerisms or tics for your character, not what you’re going to eat later. Improv helped to distract me from my usual stage bullshit and put my focus somewhere else so that I could stop acting.“
“The thing that always fascinated me about improv is that it’s basically a happy accident that you think you’re initiating. You enter a scene and decide that your character is in a bar, but your partner thinks you’re performing dental surgery. The combination of those two disparate ideas melds into something that could never have been created on its own. I’ve found the general philosophy of it to be quite helpful. It reminds me that if I stumble onto something unexpected, something that I didn’t anticipate or intend, I should be willing to follow it.