The year 2020 will be remembered for the rise of the online improv scene. The now called zoomprov, because of the main platform chosen for this purpose (sorry Google, you released free Meet too late). It destroyed all territorial boundaries to bring people from all over the world to play together. Of course, everybody was doing it… in English. This post is not about online improv though, it’s about improvising in English, what drove me to do it, what did I achieve from doing it and my neverending struggles with it.
I’m a native bilingual (Catalan and Spanish) so I’ve always been comfortable with languages especially thanks to a FOMO on not understanding the things I’m into like the music, books, comic books and even videogames not translated into Spanish. That’s one of the perks of being a geek. When I started doing improv you could count with one hand the material translated and published (I’m looking at you Truth in Comedy) in my country. Improv schools were an oddity back then and short form games were the only kind of improv you could find. But… remember when everybody had a blog? Aaaah, the blessed 00s! I started adding to my Google Reader (look it up, kids, it was like Feedly) most of the English written improv blogs I could find. Reading them I started to learn things, talk about it to the people I was doing improv with… and kept doing short form.
For many years, I was getting all that info from the other side of a glass panel. In 2014 my partner and I got the chance to go to Montreal. I was so excited looking at improv schools and shows in English despite travelling to French-speaking Canada. Lucky me, there was a drop-in at Montreal Improv led by Marc Rowland. That was the first time I’ve ever improvised in English, I enjoyed it a lot and I thought “well, it wasn’t so bad”. Unfortunately, my international improv adventures were on hold it until 2018, when I decided to attend Improv Utopia Ireland.
Stepping alone in an improv camp knowing nobody is both a terrifying and exciting experience when you are an introvert. Not only I got the chance of improvising in English. I had a lot of fun, met loads of amazing people and learnt a lot of things that I brought back to my improv community. That was the definitive push I needed to setting my eyes into international improv festivals, further camps or going to study improv to Chicago. I even started Valencia Improv Playground with Javier González, from Guerrilla Impro, creating a space in our city for people interested in English spoken improv. By the time I knew my future was in London, with my partner, I didn’t feel as scared.
But it’s easier said than done, right? I still have issues improvising in English and those are still tied to my insecurities and my perfectionism. I tend to mumble a lot, my brain freezes when I don’t find the word I want to say, I stutter when I try to achieve a perfect pronunciation because in my head I want to sound like Ian McKellen or Patrick Stewart. Whenever there’s a debate space I tend to be quiet, being afraid of opening the mouth and sound stupid. Why should I encourage you to go through that? Because it changed my life, led me to places and brought me opportunities. Most importantly, it gave me the courage to even teach in English. Do I have struggles? Yes, but I decided to suck it up and keep moving forward.
Do it. Improvise in English. Don’t be like me though. Don’t be scared of your level of English and don’t try to sabotage yourself. One of the silver linings of the world situation right now is that there are a lot of spaces where to practice improv online in English. I was lucky enough to find Improv as a Second Language when I moved to London and they provided a safe space to celebrate the opportunity of playing together without the (self-imposed) pressure of speaking perfectly. I really encourage you to try one of their open sessions or also you can check Marie de Waal‘s drop-ins focused in multilingual settings.
If you made it until here reading in English without it being your mother tongue… Go, you’ve got this.