Ellie, the main character in my debut YA contemporary romance, A MESSY, BEAUTIFUL LIFE, is captain of her high school’s improv team. She meets Jason onstage in an improv scene that turns pretty steamy. I love improv, and as an anxiety-prone introvert the principles of improv have been a huge gift in my life—stay present, listen, trust. Really, improv has all the benefits of meditation, but without the pesky sitting-still part. For me, the greatest gift of improv has been meeting some of my best friends, including my husband, Brian. (But no, we did not meet in a steamy improv scene.)
Since it’s contemporary romance day at Fresh Fiction, I thought I’d talk about relationships. I don’t profess to be a relationship guru (not at all!), but Brian and I have been friends for 22 years and we’re celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary three days before my book release. We believe so much in the principles of improv that we based our vows on them, and I thought it might be a fun way for non-improvisers to think about their relationships:
THE IMPROV GUIDE TO RELATIONSHIPS
You are all supporting actors
Just as in a good improv scene, no one in the relationship should be the star. It’s a constant flow of give and take, where each partner is working equally hard to make the other one shine. If you’re both doing that, everyone’s covered, right?
Always check your impulses
It’s easy to get lazy or have a snap reaction, but if you take a breath and think for a moment before you react, it’s going to go down better for everyone—in a scene and in real life.
Never enter a scene unless you are NEEDED
To me this relates to giving each other space in relationships—letting your partner have their own thing and their own time. Also, if your partner is struggling, listen and observe before going into problem-solver mode and trying to fix whatever ails them.
My husband and I both like getting laughs, so this one is tough in our household. But don’t make jokes at your partner’s expense. This is the person closest to you; you know their weaknesses and their history, so sure, there’s a wealth of material for comedy. It’s easy to poke fun and then brush it off by saying, “Oh, I’m just teasing you,” or “I’m just kidding.” It may be funny for a moment (to you), but it’s the kind of thing that can erode trust little by little.
Trust your fellow actors to support you; trust them to come through if you lay something heavy on them; trust yourself. Relationships require not only trusting your partner, but also trusting yourself.
LISTEN. Really and truly.
This is more a description of what improv is rather than a tenant, but I thought it was worth mentioning. The human brain thrives on play. It’s how we learn, and it’s a good mood booster because it brings you into the moment and gets endorphins going. Play is probably what matched you up with your partner in the first place—having fun, trying new things, making each other laugh? If your relationship has moved from the shiny-and-new stage to the family/parenthood stage where your evenings seem to be a whirlwind of to-dos, I recommend playing a few improv games at the dinner table. It can be something as simple as doing word association. Everyone will be connecting, maybe even laughing, and your love will feel bigger than the pile of dishes in the kitchen sink.
About Sara Jade Alan
Sara Jade Alan wrote her first comedy sketch during second grade recess, then
cast it, directed it, and made costumes out of garbage bags. Since then, she has
performed in over a thousand improvised and scripted shows all over the country.
Currently she is one-half of the comedy duo, The Novelistas, who perform aboutwriting and teach performance to writers. Originally from a suburb of Chicago, Sara now lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter.