It’s Time To Break The Rules

I have always been one to follow the rules. Perhaps, even to a fault.

Knowing that I’d never come up with a story about a time I broke the rules and everything worked out, I at least tried to start this post off with a funny anecdote about a time where I broke the rules and everything went horribly wrong. Embarrassingly, I couldn’t even come up with one of those.

I can’t even remember a time I told a really big lie, faked a sick day at work, or cut a class in college because I felt like it.

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On the one hand, it’s a good thing to do what you’re supposed to. (Duh) You get a good reputation and you don’t end up in jail. On the other hand, I wonder what sort of fun shenanigans and crazy memories I missed out on because I was too afraid of coloring outside the lines?

In the world of improv, the rules are there for a reason – they create a roadmap for successful scene work. But in all creative pursuits, improv included, they can also be an impediment to discovery and fun.

During my first year and a half of improv, I spent a lot of time at shows resenting improvisers who were getting a great audience reaction by doing shows that I considered “weird” – going to crazy town in the first five minutes, playing multiple characters, not digging into relationship etc. I sat in the back with my arms crossed judging their “poor moves” while the audience ate it up.

Matt Martin getting weird in his Level 5 showcase set

In retrospect, the only person making poor moves in the situation was me.

Rules in improv are nothing more than training wheels. They’re great for beginners, but to move forward, there comes a time where you need to take them off.

In writing, I break the rules all the time. I start sentences with “and” or “but.” I write in phrases. I add commas at inappropriate places to change the flow of the sentence or add emphasis. But all of that is justified because I know the “right thing” to do and am intentionally choosing not to.

In improv, you’re probably ready to start breaking the rules too.

In level 1 you asked questions because you were too afraid to create something on your own, and you were told “don’t ask questions.” In level 5, you asked questions because that’s what your character would do, and no one said anything. By the time you’ve graduated classes, your training program has taught you well. You know what’s “supposed to be done,” and to serve the show, you can try to break rules and see what works.

In any creative pursuit, if you’ve been doing it long enough, it’s not only your right, but your duty, to be brave try to find a new way or better way to do things. Who knows what I would have discovered about myself or my point of view if I had just cut one class in college. Maybe it would have been disasterous. But the only way to know is to experiment and what happens. The only way to innovate and move things forward is to intentionally break the rules and see what else lies just beyond the horizon.

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