Where do you stand on nature vs. nurture in improv? Do I improvise the way I do because of my 101 teacher (201, early coaches, etc.), or because of how I am as a person, or a bit of both?
You know, originally I would’ve said nature, but after writing that Instant Cinema post, I’m not sure anymore. The things I learned then (playing macro) I still do, eight years later. Did that come from training, or was it always in my nature?
I don’t know. Even when playing World of Warcraft, I was a Hunter - I’d stand back in the sidelines and shoot. Not a frontline Tank, and not a Healer. But Hunter-esque moves are what I enjoy doing in improv. (This is REALLY distilling things to basic points, I know.)
Then there’s this… as time passes, you’ll probably forget most of the things said by your first teachers and coaches. I sure have. But the parts that remain, they stay true to you because they ARE true for you, if that makes sense.
We retain the wisdom that speaks to us.
So I guess I’ll stick with nature.
This is an interesting question to me: The world of cognition and evolutionary psychology is an exciting one now, and the models of human behavior are much more complicated than the simple duality of nature and nurture. Depending upon who you ask, a lot to all of human nature is an accident, a byproduct of other, older, primate behaviors being connected together in a vastly more complicated network. I love reading about this kind of thing (I’m currently in the middle of a great new book, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read, for example). Check out The Language Instinct (a dense tome, but completely fascinating) for a look into how primed for speaking, listening, and reacting to speech we are, and therefore (to my mind) how utterly primed we all are naturally to improv.
To segue: Think of violins. Violins do not exist in nature. There are no violin trees, or wild violin beasts roaming the plains. They are, compared to all of human existence, a very new development. There has been absolutely no time and no need to evolve innate violin playing skills. Nobody can just play the violin. Yet we live in a world with violin virtuosos. And anybody, with a little bit of instruction, can draw a bow across the strings and produce a sound. This is because we’re using structures that already exist: a sense of pitch, rhythm, muscle coordination, memory, prediction, a whole pandemonium of inborn skills and talents. It is only with discipline and time that you turn from just being to draw the bow to playing an amazing concerto.
Similarly, we humans have a lot of inborn skills and tendencies that we’re going to use when we first do improv. Early teachers are simply providing you the instruction by which to draw the bow across the string. It’s an incredibly complex relationship, and I urge you to go learn more about cognitive science. It’s pretty amazing stuff! Science!
(And thanks for the book recommendations!)