The ability to improvise isn't only a skill for high school speech team participants and professional comedians. Improvising is for everyone.
Life doesn't always go according to our well-laid plans. We can rehearse and imagine as much as we want; that doesn't guarantee any higher level of predictability. Curveballs still fly. All the time. Toward us and around us. Improvising is the ability to extemporaneously navigate through the unpredictable pitches.
Over the weekend I saw the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Touring Company perform live in Minneapolis at a venue called Brave New Workshop. The UCB is comprised of four individuals who travel the country doing improv comedy. It was highly entertaining!
First, they invited a random member of the audience forward. Then a cast member, Mike, informally interviewed the volunteer about her life while she sat on stage. It was all unplanned and unscripted.
After the 10-minute interview, the volunteer returned to her seat and the cast got to work. They used the content of her interview as the base material of their first 45-minute set. They improvised. Bravely and boldly. The two men and two women weaved in and out of characters and voices. Sometimes their timing and wit was spot-on and other times it was a good effort. The crowd laughed and cheered.
For their second set, the UCB invited several audience members to read random text messages from their cell phones. The cast then used three of those text messages as the foundation of their second improv set. Major kudos to any human willing to get up and perform in front of other humans. That takes guts.
Good improv is about being able to think quickly on the spot. It's about creating something new out of a variety of possible elements and ideas. Impromptu performances of this nature are about teamwork, trust, experimentation and a willingness to just keep going.
In our day-to-day lives, we never know exactly what to expect. The very moment we think all of life has become predictable, the occurrences and interactions will shift and prove otherwise.
In those scenarios, we have options. We can panic. We can freeze. Or we can improvise. We can take the random elements we've been handed and do something new and creative with them.
There's another cue we can borrow from experts in improvising. We, too, can laugh. We can laugh hard and laugh often. Because life is weird and there's something entirely freeing about the ability to see humor even in life's elements of mush and mess.
Plans have a place. Following a certain script for what we imagine life to be … that has a purpose. Biblically speaking, there are plenty of examples of times God directs people to live out specific, directed commands.
But faith isn't all about perfectly following the rules in a predicable fashion. Improvising has a purpose and place, too, in daily life and in the Bible. Ruth and Naomi improvised. Jesus improvised. Mary and Martha did some improvising. Paul improvised. These folks took the material they'd been handed and they worked with it. Like a good improv team, these folks kept going.
We all get to improvise. As you live into both the planned and unplanned elements of this week, remember that there are a wealth of possibilities within that content if we're willing to just keep going. Experiment. Try something new. Lean in. Trust the rest of your cast — friends, family, and colleagues. And when possible, laugh. Keep going and keep laughing.