Opinion: Rules of improv also apply to life

Recently, I took a Community Education class on improvisation, Stevie Ray’s Improv for Everyone.

Not surprisingly, I was the token old guy in the group. There were a couple of middle-agers, but most of my classmates were in their 20s and 30s.

When instructor Carl Olson asked us, “Why did you sign up for this class?” the only reason I could think of was “temporary insanity.” What’s an 80-year-old doing in an improv class with all these young people?

Interestingly, most of the participants weren’t aspiring performers. They just wanted to build self-confidence, boost their creative thinking capacity and beef up their presentation skills. They also hoped to meet some interesting people and have fun.

I guess I would settle for those same outcomes. Besides that, part of vital aging is trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone now and then. This class certainly did that.

If nothing else, the experience taught me some things about myself. For example, my mental nimbleness and “quick wittedness” have not improved with age. Sometimes, I think my mind has turned to mush. I’m obviously not ready for prime time. But not to worry. If I tried my best, everyone played along with me.

Most of the class consisted of games and exercises designed to stretch our creativity muscles and our ability to think on our feet. But we also learned some basic principles of improv performance. Yes, even spontaneity has rules.

So, here’s what I learned in improv class:

• Trust yourself and others.

• You can’t screw up unless you think you screwed up.

• Watch, listen and concentrate.

• Sometimes, spontaneity is better than too much forethought.

• Commitment can make up for many other shortcomings.

• Be true to yourself. Don’t lower yourself to someone else’s standards.

That’s it. Those are the basics of improv.

Funny thing! These same lessons apply to aging. After all, aging is mostly a matter of improvising every day. There is no script, no one right way to be old. We have to make it up as we go along. And you can’t screw up, except in your own mind. So just trust yourself and have fun. That’s not only the secret to successful Improv; it’s the secret to successful aging as well. — Bob Ramsey (Editor’s note: Ramsey is a lifelong educator, freelance writer and advocate for vital aging. He resides in St. Louis Park.)