Fred Uses Improv to Explore His Curiosity

I am a teacher for Minneapolis Public Schools and as of this term, a teacher for the Brave New Workshop Student Union! I went to my first Brave New Workshop show when I was a teenager in the 1980s (back then, it was still called Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop) and it really was love at first sight. Even before I saw the show, just the notion of actors making stuff up from audience suggestions thrilled me. I was lucky enough to make it into an improv troupe in college, and I’ve been doing it off and on ever since.  In fact, in February, I’ll be going to a 30th anniversary reunion of our group.

I really am one of these “Improv is Life” disciples. In no particular order, I find a kind of zen wisdom to fundamentals like being in the moment, regarding mistakes as gifts, trusting yourself, saying “Yes, and,” committing wholly to an idea, and having a sense of play. In my work, some of the best classroom discussions have come from saying “Yes, and” to seemingly random, offhand comments. People really open up when they feel safe and supported. Probably the most important and fulfilling growth I’ve had is the loosening of my sometimes debilitating perfectionism. I’m not yet where I’d like to be, but I have really come to appreciate how creativity is not this task you grind away at, but rather an openness to collaboration, happy accidents, and remixing of old ideas.  An insistence on absolute originality is actually very egotistical and isolating and, I think, quite un-creative.  I dabble in creative writing, and my most satisfying pieces have been done with others and done as works in progress.

If I could talk to someone who was curious but scared to try improv for the first time, I would urge them – with all credit to the book Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker (which I think everyone should read) – to appreciate the difference between what feelings they are experiencing and true fear. True fear is really a survival mechanism, something that is useful when we must enter into fight or flight. The problem is that we humans, with our abstract thinking and wild imaginations, perceive threats to ourselves where none actually exist. Often fear is based on something imaginary – imagining a worst case scenario that results in shame, embarrassment, or humiliation – but that will never actually come true.

In contrast, the curiosity is the truest part of you seeking expression. Remember how unfettered we were as children? How pure our joy could be? That’s still in us. Improv lets it out.


– Fred Cheng, BNW SU Instructor
Be Brave. Do Improv.