Who is that masked improviser?!
It’s all of us right now, if we want to meet for in person classes, rehearsals, and shows across the majority of the United States. Despite vaccination status, masks are currently required for indoor public spaces, and improv has done what it does best: listen, react, and say yes, and.
When we opened our doors to in-person classes for the first time in 18 months, full vaccination was the only requirement for our beyond-eager new students. After one week back, the mask mandate was reinstated for Las Vegas, and we made a big ask of our improvisers. Adjust what you signed up for, and mask up for classes going forward. Fortunately, they said yes without missing a beat, and soon we had slightly new lessons added to our curriculum. Here are things we have learned in our masked classes.
Projection and articulation matter even more.
The mask puts a physical barrier between you and your ensemble’s words. If you have never practiced theatre or public speaking before, wearing a mask gives you the opportunity to exercise that diaphragmatic breathing your high school chorus teacher talked so much about. Omitting the lip reading and facial cues offered by an unobstructed face actually heightens your ability to hear others and your need to articulate your own words. In short, masks can help you find your voice.
Eye contact is key.
Improv already relies heavily on eye contact, something that was lost in our (still fun and effective) online classes. Making eye contact fosters connection, trust, and vulnerability. This is amplified tenfold when your scene partner’s eyes are all there is to see. Are they smiling, sad, surprised? You have a third of their face to decide, requiring laser focus. After all, no one ever called the nostrils the windows to the soul.
Nonverbal communication for the win.
Let’s say you can’t quite delve into those eyes, and there is just too much chatter to make out words from behind the mask. Another pillar of improvisation is body language and nonverbal communication. Sensing a vibe or “reading a room” is another thing we could do far less or much differently over remote classes. There is nothing like standing in proximity to your ensemble and being able to tell, based on their shoulders or their stance, what they are offering. This instant read is what makes improvising so magical, where a spontaneous interaction seems like a well-rehearsed script.
Joy still exists.
Coming “back” to the world after resigning ourselves to isolation is, simply put, exciting. It is not perfect. We still worry about illness, the next news story, or just being behind masks forever. And yet we show up. Our first in-person classes sold out quickly, and our students have said yes to any and all guidelines that would allow them to be in a room together. The palpable joy and benefits of improv cannot be contained, and we have seen it firsthand, with and without masks.
The mask in our improv space sends the same message that it does in our communities: that the ensemble is greater than the individual. While we look forward to seeing the full, smiling faces of our students, friends, and ensemble members, we say “yes, and” to what is asked of us now. We are no scientists, but from what we’ve observed, masks are not designed to restrict laughter.
We can’t wait to welcome you to our next round of class! All improv experience levels are welcome, as we explore exercises designed for connection, self-discovery, and human connection.