It’s Sunday night in Chappaqua, New York, and Caroline, 18, is barking like a dog. After a friend hooks a pretend leash onto Caroline’s neck, another friend starts petting her. Suddenly, Caroline races off to fetch a pretend ball. Have Caroline and her friends all lost their minds? No, they’re doing improv, a form of theater where there’s no script and you and your scene partners make up the story as you go along.
If you’ve ever done improv, you know it can be very silly—and very fun. But did you know that the skills you learn doing improv are incredibly useful in real life?
“Improv involves listening, reacting, collaborating, and being positive—all important life skills,” says actor Marc Evan Jackson, co-founder of the Detroit Creativity Project, an improv group for kids in Detroit. And studies have shown that practicing improv can reduce social anxiety and feelings of depression in teens and help boost self-esteem.
“My ability to be vulnerable with people has improved a lot,” says Caroline. “And I also have more confidence to try new things.”
Teens aren’t the only ones who can benefit from improv. Many businesses use improv exercises to train employees. It’s also taught in correctional facilities and schools, and there’s even a class for doctors called medical improv, which helps them communicate with patients. So even if you have no intention of ever setting foot on a stage or acting like your favorite pet, improv can come in handy. Read on to learn about five of the key principles of improv and how you can work them into your daily life.