"When an old and distinguished person speaks to you, listen to him carefully and with respect – but do not believe him. Never put your trust in anything but your own intellect. Your elder, no matter whether he has gray hair or lost his hair, no matter whether he is a Nobel Laureate, may be wrong... So you must always be skeptical – always think for yourself." --Linus Pauling
I took the Level 1 class back when I lived in Chicago (the original Improv Olympic is located less than a block from Wrigley Field). Ultimately I couldn't continue on at the time though, as my income (derived solely from medical research studies at the time) had temporarily dried up.
Why would someone fork over hard earned money ($300 for each eight week course, six levels in all!) to learn what seems from the outside to be nothing so much as getting up on stage and making shit up on the fly? Is this a worthwile skill? Is it something that can even be taught?
My reasons for doing this are as follows:
1. Getting up in front of complete strangers and spouting off whatever comes to mind scares the shit out of me. Reason enough to take it on right there.
2. It will free up and get the creative juice flowing. This is just one method to use. Others include: imbibing strange substances like absinthe when they present themselves, shufflings of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies cards (look it up), perusing books of magic and religion (Aleister Crowley's Book Of Lies currently with something by Austin Osman Spare later on), and giving myself over to the occasional mad impulse that seizes me.
3. The social aspect. I now spend three hours a week minimum playing at this stuff with a room full of people smarter and funnier than I am.
The first four weeks of this endeavor (i.e. January) were very hard for me. Learning to let go and stop thinking so much takes some doing. I just began Level 2 last night. I am definitely improving.
Last year I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Phaedra. She's going to college right now to study Educational Systems or somesuch thing. I told her that if I ever went to college I would definitely end up majoring in something functionally useless that interested me a great deal like "Fire Eating" or "Inveterate Gambling" something. Attending Clown College also holds some appeal.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago: Randall and I have a conversation over lunch. He's studying to get his library science degree right now. Turns out, he's paying pretty much the same amount for his classes as I am for mine.
Okay, so improv isn't as glamourous as fire eating or earning a degree in Clownology, but you know what? It'll do for now.