Published by ShawnKinley on

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In last month’s newsletter (DECEMBER 2023) I wrote one suggestion that some people should quit improvising if it doesn’t make them happy. As I suspected, a couple of you wrote to me demanding a refund for all the workshops I gave to you. 

No. Nobody did that. But there were some great discussion points that were brought up.

So, let’s Continue the Conversation.


Firstly, the article was a bit of a rush job. Time was ticking, my flight was boarding and I wanted to get the article finished. BUT THAT’S NO EXCUSE! You deserve more!  Bad Shawn – Tsk Tsk!

Peppe Marchei took some time to write his thoughts and I will use our conversation as the basis to look deeper into this idea.


– How could You say to one person, that is practicing impro from several years but that seems having so much pressure and so less joy in practicing it, that he/she could consider the option to quit? Should You find the way to comunicate that in a way that person can manage?
– Telling people they must have fun does not often help people to really have fun. It can put even more pressure to some of them and, even worst, educate people to show “fake fun” just because it is “wrong” not having fun. Should You just create an enviroment where people can play and have real fun, without underline it i advance or after or is it important that people have some sense of difference between real and fake fun? 
Also, how can You making them more aware that having fun does not imply to be silly (not all the time at least) but that You can find You fun also in playing scene where You push You and Your partner in more dangerous area?


And… I agree with you.

One of the things I failed to mention is that QUITTING doesn’t necessarily mean QUITTING FOREVER!  What I wrote was too generic. Just quitting isn’t the answer. “Quitting” is shutting one door to open another approach.

For those who didn’t read the original article, it can be pretty much summed up in this paragraph:

“Some improvisers are tortured every moment they walk on stage or into a scene.  If it’s not fun, WHY ARE YOU DOING IT??? I don’t want to be cruel but maybe knitting or Sudoku might better suit you. Whatever you do, it should be fun.”

Here is an edited response to the discussion with Peppe.

QUITTING doesn’t have to be a permanent thing.  

a yellow notepad on a keyboardFor some people, quitting might mean stepping back, taking a short break and returning in a better state. Or it might mean leaving the current community and influences and ‘starting again’ in a healthy way in another place.

Children will quit doing activities that frustrate them or are taught poorly. They stop doing the thing and find better ways. (easier, more enjoyable, etc).  Sometimes giving up entirely and sometimes giving up on the process and finding a healthier path.

Adults don’t often learn this way. Regardless of frustration or lack of joy, Students in most schools understand that they mustn’t stop doing things the way they are told or they will get in trouble. 

When I was 11, I quit doing math the way my teacher taught me. I quickly discovered a way of doing equations that worked easily for me. The teacher said my ‘correct answers’  didn’t count as “successful” because I wasn’t doing it his way. I think that’s when I gave up on math. 

(As an adult I discovered that my old math discovery was a “NEW” innovative solution being taught to children.)

Young kids learn faster and have more fun when they approach the lack of fun in a healthier and more intuitive way but they have to be given the space to quit bad systems that fail them.

Coordination exercises I do at the beginning of impro classes prove the value of quitting. Children “QUIT” doing the exercises quicker than adults will. They find alternate ways to approach the task. Adults have to be told to quit if they’re frustrated, negatively stressed or lose enthusiasm. 

Kids return to the exercise inspired, empowered and having learned more than what I intended. Adults might complete the exercise but they rarely learn more than how to coordinate their hands in one limited way. The process is healthy for the children. Not so much for the adults.

doors, choices, chooseThe word “Quitting” might be too harsh.  

  • Find another approach,
  • Set aside the old approach for now
  • Explore another path
  • Search for alternate solutions…

Quitting must always be an option. Seeing no open door to walk away from frustrating experiences creates bad relationships. You are always free to walk a reasonably alternate path as you are to stay on the teacher’s path if both lead in similar directions, otherwise, the value of IMPROVISATION is limited and impedes growth. 

Here is a common pattern that improvisers go through in their development:

  • They Begin with curiosity
  • They feel enthusiasm with early growth and success
  • They commit with passion
  • They become frustrated they aren’t growing.
  • They GIVE UP or Quit for a while.
  • They return with a better attitude and have improved

It fascinates me to see this pattern repeating itself over time and cultures. That step of giving up comes in two forms. Some people stop completely. They go away and do something else before eventually returning. Others quit more subtly. They stop taking it so seriously. They may not come to class as much. They might not worry about getting notes anymore. They stop doing it the way “THE RULES” tell them to. 

The outcome for most people is that they improve.

(No, it’s not EVERYONE’s process but it happens a lot. Also, some people quit because they are just lazy… that’s a different topic.)

OK, let’s look at the second part of this equation. 

THE FUN! children, river, bathing

“FUN” is different for everyone. The masochist enjoys nipple clamps. Sudoku enthusiasts enjoy putting the number 3 in an empty block. The two people will know the difference between fun and “not fun”.

Improvisers who are tortured with the thought of being on stage, the experience of performing and the frustration of being in class with people they have difficult experiences with regardless of the teacher’s attempt to create a fun environment, are NOT having fun and not likely to. They would serve themselves better to go back to the nipple clamps and sudoku for a while.

There are improvisers who beat themselves up after shows and have the occasional scene that makes them feel like they fly above all the frustrations. They justify the torture of the show with their potential to improve and the value from growth and success in that one scene. They find joy in the challenge and to feel they are growing.

Fun is different for all of us.

You don’t HAVE TO HAVE FUN... but it might be a more enjoyable life to devote more time to the things that give you more fun.

Peppe wrote:

It can put even more pressure to some of them and, even worst, educate people to show “fake fun” just because it is “wrong” not having fun.

As a rule, I would NEVER encourage someone to FAKE THE FUN!  Not at all. (except as an experiment to manipulate their attitudes in the short term). I detest that “fake fun lie” on stage that some performers feed to the audience even though it’s apparent that they’re not having fun at all..

No, we can’t always be happy when we walk onto the stage but we all know that “forced” fun that makes us cringe and scares the audience by humans showing unbalanced states that could snap at any moment.

The audience is great at reading our true feelings. Be careful when you fake it.

You are right, “Telling people they must have fun does not often help people to have fun.” but when it’s not fun and they pretend it is… it’s a dangerous place to be, ESPECIALLY if they are teachers.

One performer had learned to fake and amplify her ‘positive feelings’. She had an awkward “celebration” when she played games and won. It left the rest of us silent.

I told her to QUIT celebrating and “showing” fun intellectually. If it’s not authentically fun, it’s not worth celebrating. Smile and move on. 

Eventually, we played games that overwhelmed her intellect and when she was winning or losing authentically she could see/feel the difference between what she thought was right about “having fun” and what was true for her.

She had been taught in Chicago by a teacher who said – “SAY YOUR FUN AND ENTHUSIASM! PUT IT OUT TO THE WORLD! SHOW IT TO EVERYONE!” ) 

how can You making them more aware that having fun does not imply to be silly (not all the time at least) but that You can find You fun also in playing scene where You push You and Your partner in more dangerous area?

That’s a good question BECAUSE – if the performer’s ego is too big then you can’t tell them anything that they don’t already believe. They interpret the teacher’s words as “WRONG” for them. They internalize, saying “He just doesn’t understand me” or “I know better!”

I might not know them and they might know better BUT… if I am feeling strong enough to tell them something, I have a pretty good suspicion that there is something they aren’t seeing. BUT… that fight with a student who wants to keep their point of view is pointless.  


I use the rest of the class as teachers.  

INSTANT FEEDBACK exercises that have others respond in the moment to the topic that everyone can see is one of the best tools. The class is smarter than any one individual. 

Having people tag out each other in scenes for the reasons you are teaching, (“blocking, not being authentic, etc etc) is a way to put a new authority in place to say the things you can’t get across to the resistant student. If the idea is strong enough, the class will reinforce the idea and the resistant student will learn, or spend a lot of their time off stage watching others succeed.


That’s it for me, for now.

There’s a lot more that could be said but I’ll leave that to all of you until we meet in a class or coffee shop one day soon. Keep the conversations alive.

After thought –  Here are a few examples of…


– (I will preface with the words that I DO NOT tell people to quit easily. It’s a last resort that should be considered carefully.)

  • A couple of wonderful Italian improvisers who were frustrated with their group (they were the junior members). They felt they were getting worse and losing the fun. I suggested that sometimes, under poor leadership, quitting might be the best solution. Years later I saw them and they told me it was a couple of great years after a rocky and doubt filled departure from their previous toxic mentors. They had their own group and were happy and successful.
  • A little group in Norway who had some success also had a split identity and group frustration. Some wanted to open the group to others, Some wanted to do bigger shows, some were frustrated with the commitment and lack of growth. In a note session after a show I suggested it might be time for the group to die. Two weeks later, the leader of the group disbanded the group. One person gave up improvising. One person went on to another frustrating group which limited involvement of others. The others in the group went on to create one of the best improvisation companies in the world. (seriously! –  50plus improvisers, two stages, 7 – 15 sold out shows a week.)
  • A teacher who seemed to love control and rules was frustrated with her lack of growth. She had only started improvising a year or two earlier. I told her to quit teaching. She was doing most of her work from her ego and was limiting her growth because she felt she HAD TO KNOW THE ANSWERS.  She was in tears. Years later her ego was readjusting and improvement was there slowly but surely.


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