Chapter 7: Big Mistakes a Lot of Improvisers Easily Make

1)   We say “yes” too often.  Now don’t get me wrong, yes is part of our training.  But we improvisers—we’re so afraid of missing anything.  So we say yes to this group and that group.  And pretty sure we’re in TOO MANY GROUPS and our focus gets split, we can’t watch and learn at other improv shows, and we become a little over-exposed.

2)   We take some “business” decisions too personally.  We’ve all been bummed to see a new group formed that includes our friends and not us.  I mean, we’re human—of course our feelings will get hurt.  But we have to let it go or else we end up in the most dangerous place for aimproviser:  in our heads.

bad mood

3)   We take our bad mood out on our ensemble.  Improvisers are encouraged to be emotional—on stage–and sometimes real emotions spill into off-stage scenarios.  After all, our fellow cast mates  often end up being some of our closest friends in whom we confide.  Now sometimes these instances cannot be helped, but in the spirit of ensemble, remember that your mood can affect the tone around you—the mood of the whole group—and can even affect your end product.  I’ve also heard nightmares of one person’s bad mood infecting an entire green room on a weekly basis.  Don’t be that person.  Improv is supposed to be fun—a  release.  And we’re part of an ensemble.  We have to remember that.

4)   We make certain shows “too important.”  Every show is important, one.  And every show is unimportant, too.  We really have to treat them as if they’re both.  It doesn’t matter if your parents or significant other or some big agent or Lorne Michaels or Second City or Charna Halpern are watching.  Shows are important and unimportant at the same time.  We are supposed to bring our a-game (important show) to EVERY SHOW (unimportant show).  Wow, this is getting existential.  But what I’m trying to say is that if we treat every show as the same—with focus and fun and love for our ensemble, every show WILL BE IMPORTANT.

not listening

5)   We’re so in our head about what we’re going to do on stage that we stop listening.  The only thing I say to myself before I go on stage now is “listen.”  Why?  Because it is the first thing we forget to do when we’re up there.  iO’s 5B teacher Noah once said that your brain is 33% retarded when you’re on stage.  And he’s not kidding.  Actually, sometimes it feels as if everything within us in impaired at times.  Listening can be the first to go.  Especially when we’re trying to do about a million things:  edit, have relationships, have environment and emotion, weave things together, give gifts, pay heed to the suggestion.  But all we really have to do is listen—and I’m not kidding.  Those other things will fall into place if we listen.

6)   We love to overcomplicate with form.  PERIOD.  Okay, let’s talk a little further.  We all love form when it first comes into our lives.  It becomes this thing that we can rely on for structure.  And that is all.  I once coached a team that opened with a la ronde then went into an Armando then went into a deconstruction.  I don’t even think they knew what it all meant but they liked to say it.  At the end of the day, the scenes and the relationships and the characters are what we leave remembering, and form is forgotten.

lost boyfriend

7)   We forget to have a real life.  Nothing is wrong with loving improv, but we sometimes can over-love it and forget to do things that make us relatable people.  I like to think of improv as my boyfriend (because it is and no one else is asking).  If I make everything about my boyfriend, I stop having an identity and I stop being interesting to my boyfriend.  Same thing goes for good old improvisation.

8)   We try to play like others and not ourselves.  When we’re asked to be a sit-in or guest member in an ensemble, we try to play like them and not us.  And we were asked because we are us.  Not them.  A couple years ago, I was asked to play in Tj & Dave with Mr. Pasquesi.   I played the show I thought Dave wanted me to play—not the show I could play.  I had a once-in-a-lifetime (it might have been twice if I hadn’t effed up) and I was so in my head I didn’t even enjoy it or realize that Dave asked me because he liked the way I played.

9)   We’re late.  Because we often have to make it up on the fly, we often think that being late or missing a warm-up isn’t an issue.  Well, it is an issue.  It is disrespectful of our ensemble’s time and we also might be missing some key goals that were discussed for that performance.


10)  We can be “Chicago improv” snobs.  This is a bit more specific but I do think it might be true of any strong improv scene.  We believe in our own.  I know I suffered from this snobbery—some out-of-town improvisers were hired into an ensemble with me.  I made them prove themselves super-hard.  They’re still some of the best improvisers I know.  And they’re better than me– FO SHO.




Dina has toured with and directed for The Second City National Touring Company and has taught/performed/directed all over the great city of Chicago. In 2011, Dina was honored to headline the Denver Improv Festival as a representative of Virgin Daiquiri; that same year, iO Chicago graced her with the title of Improviser of the Year. In 2012, Dina executive produced Virgin Daiquiri’s first album FOOD BABY, now available on iTunes. Dina now performs regularly at iO Chicago with Virgin Daiquiri at iO - where she also co-created CUFFS & DBAG. She has also had the honor of working at Steppenwolf and ATC.

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