5 minute read


Amy Angelilli

Chief Adventure Officer, The Adventure Project


Even though it’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, summer always reminds me that the season for learning-new-things is just around the corner. Now, that season is about me teaching others how improv might improve their lives – personally and professionally. However, when someone discovers my improv background and toolbox, I usually get the following responses: 1. “Tell me a joke – go ahead, say something funny!” 2. “Oh, I could never do that!”

And guess what? These responses are a great teaching moment for me because: 1. Improv isn’t about telling jokes or being funny. 2. Improv is something everyone is already doing because life is unscripted.

According to Wikipedia, “Improvisational theater, often called improv, is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.. ”

So, let’s talk campus life. Can the tenants of this art form, when applied to campus life, make the college experience richer for the students? YES!

Students don’t realize they are already improvising because they think of improv as comedy that happens on a stage. The truth is that what develops off stage while utilizing an improv mindset is way more important and can be the difference between a student staying or leaving school.

With that in mind, I present the top 10 ways improv can make your students stars on the campus “stage”:

They learn how to be present. Improv is about the moment and doesn’t allow anyone to get stuck in the past or worry about the future. If your students aren’t present, they aren’t getting the most out of their college experience. First-year students often dwell in high school memories and those about to graduate are looking to their future lives and careers. However, being engaged now makes for happier students which means higher retention rates.

Students explore creativity. Some students get into a daily routine and don’t often stray from it because of the pressure to succeed. Through improv they can tap into parts of themselves that may not be available in their day-to-day lives. What if they could have a safe space to let their guards down – together -- and have fun doing it? It becomes a transformational experience that connects and bonds them with fellow students.

They’re inspired to take action. Students can use an improv experience as a gateway to continue trying new things and developing new skills. It unlocks doors to experiences yet to be had on – and off – of campus. When students discover that yes, they can improvise, the next question is often, “What else can we do?”

Students develop a community. While there are many avenues to make friends on campus, there’s nothing like going through a shared group experience where students are exploring the unknown together while supporting each other through it. Friendships form fast through improv as participants are vulnerable – together.

They have fun breathing. I know … this sounds silly, and it’s true! Through improv students can intentionally breathe to slow down and embrace whatever is happening – now. In doing so, they notice details that otherwise would have been missed. And what if one of these details is a solution to a current problem, or using what’s already on campus to take the next step in a project, or realizing that they aren’t alone in their journeys?

Students embrace the power of “yes.” Good improvisers say “yes” to their scene partners. Great improvisers say “yes, and” to their scene partners. Imagine students having this “yes, and” attitude … “Yes, I can do this, and here’s the first step.” Those who practice “yes, and” thinking affect others around them positively and the “can do” attitude makes campus life more about doing rather than thinking about maybe doing one day. Plus, interpersonal skills improve as active listening is used in conversations that move forward together.

They begin to trust – themselves. Through an improv mindset, students start becoming more confident and learn they have a lot more potential than they realize. By slowing down and being in the moment, students are also developing their intrapersonal skills which means they become friends with themselves. Students become practitioners of “we before me.” By making each other look good through a cooperative, collaborative play experience, students are essentially building a team. Through the positive teamwork that improv requires, they turn into cheerleaders for each other wanting groupsuccess outside of the improv space.

They practice resilience in the face of failure. If people weren’t willing to fail, we’d never have the telephone, the automobile, or the computer. And even so, students put pressure on themselves to be right and to do well – All. The. Time. What if there was a safe space where mistakes were embraced, and failure could be practiced? Through improv, students may get to a place of innovation, or they may get to a place where they take risks, leaning into starting over. Both are important skills to have in life beyond college.

And the number one way improv can make your students stars on the campus “stage” is … up to you! I’m leaving the most important way open for you to fill in your own success story, because every person, every group, every organization that improvises has an experience unique to them.

So, this list wasn’t funny at all. What will be is opening up to an improv adventure where the funny organically unfolds while helping your students to develop soft, or as I like to call them, essential skills. As they grow as individuals, their school spirit will too and so will their engagement. And isn’t that worth a standing ovation on your campus “stage?”

To bring Amy Angelilli and the power of "yes, and..." to your campus, drop a line to amy@adventure-project.com