Riding a Bike?

A discussion came up over the weekend about the nature of improv. Is it like riding a bike, where one always remembers how to do it, or is it more like working out, where one needs to rebuild strength after returning to it from a hiatus? After some reflection, I think I would answer the question, “Yes.”

When I return to biking after a hiatus, I have found that I remember the mechanics and basic balance; on the other hand, if I were to ride up a steep hill, my technique, form, and general strength would not be up to par, for which working out, either by cycling or going to the gym, helps. Likewise, when I return to improv after a break from improvising with others, I feel like certain elements still feel natural, but on the other hand, I find it more difficult to navigate entropy. That is to say, a scene with a high entropy rate is like a steep hill, and I need to work harder to make connections and justify.

I’ve had a similar question about the relative value of practices versus shows. The frequency of shows that I am doing has increased over the past month, but the frequency of practices I’ve been to between my two teams has actually decreased. I think the problem with relying too heavily on shows is that without regular feedback from coaches, which is more likely to happen with regular practices, one is effectively improvising open loop, which is subject to problems similar to what one might experience in an open-loop control system.

I started this post trying to make a fitness analogy and have ended up making analogies to information theory and control theory, but somehow the latter analogies feel apropos. I suppose that’s something I should reflect on for a future post.

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