Some improv exercises to do by your onlies to make a more creative life

The brain you had when you were a kid was just a little bit softer than the brain you have now. Let’s take a step back and soften up your grown-up brain, to let more things in. Here are some practice improv exercises from various sources, compiled by Jill Bernard, for you to do by yourself.

  • Walk around a place naming things the wrong name, i.e. point at the chair and call it a soda fountain or a gleebeldy glook.
  • Do a crossword puzzle or a Sudoku wrong. I recommend not limiting yourself to letters and numbers.
  • Close your eyes and turn your head any direction you’d like. Open your eyes and look at what’s in front of you in the frame of your vision. Appreciate it like it’s a painting or a photograph someone deliberately composed in just this way. Try to analyze the symbolism, and the artist’s intent.
  • Brush your teeth with the wrong hand.
  • Reach into space with your hands and grab an invisible object. Grab first, then look in your hand and see what it is. Notice all the details. Set it down, then reach into space and grab something again, try different sizes and weights. (This is from Mick Napier, his excellent book “Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out” has a few more.)
  • Take the wrong route home.
  • Draw a really terrible picture of a bunny and mail it to Jill Bernard HUGE Theater 3037 Lyndale Ave S Minneapolis MN 55408 U.S.A.
  • Open a document on your computer or get out a sheet of paper, and just start writing. Write whatever comes, even if it’s just, “I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what to say.”
  • Here is a variation on the game WHAT ARE YOU DOING? Find two initials in the room you are, like L.B. Then just make little verb/object or adjective/verb combos out loud, i.e. Lighting Bridges, Losing Brian, Listening Boringly, Limiting Barry, Lightly Baking, Listlessly Burying, etc. If you’d like you can physically act them out, or just keep it as a verbal-quickness exercise.
  • Tell a one-word story where you blink to separate the thoughts for yourself. [Eyes open] “once” [eyes closed] “there” [eyes open] “was” [eyes closed] “a” [eyes open] “grandmother” [eyes closed] “who” etc. This is hard to sustain for long because your brain catches up and starts unifying your thoughts into one thinker, so start over lots of times.
  • Do four little mini character monologues with the same first line of dialogue, spreading out around the room and taking different physicalities.
  • Put on your headphones and dance around to your favorite song completely unleashed and free of inhibition. It’s best to do it somewhere where it is entirely possible you will be caught.
Your brain has pathways, and unless you find ways to get off those pathways, you’ll never have a new thought. See if you can surprise yourself today.