by Nick Cutelli

When I first started at Second City Improv theater in Chicago one of my very first directors told me that if you’re good at improv there’s a good chance that you’re probably going to be really good at life and to be honest I truly believe that that is a fact.

What is improv?

If you’re not familiar with improv, it’s when you ask an actor to completely make up a character or a scene, or even an entire play right on the spot. It’s a very complex art form for an actor. In your mind, simultaneously, you have to take on the role of an actor, a director, choreographer and even a writer because you’re creating an entire scene from thin air without any sort of preparation or rehearsal.

I love to be in this position as an actor. I feel more comfortable walking into an audition where they just allow me to improvise and make something up on the spot versus having to prepare a script.

What’s interesting about improv is that it’s an overlooked performance art in the theater community.

You don’t really see it offered at a university level and even at a high school education level. It’s rare to see an improv class offered within their curriculum. Because there are a lot of stereotypes that hover around the art of improvisational theater such as thinking it’s just a comedy club type art form. Some theaters even tend to look down on improv because they connect it with it being a lazy performance style because the actors haven’t prepared anything. From the outside yes, I can sometimes agree that improv looks like it should just be in a comedy club somewhere in downtown Dallas but on the other side it is probably one of the most powerful theatrical performance styles that can really take an actor’s abilities to the next level, and can even change the course of their career.

It’s a powerful tool that can transform actors abilities on stage.

Due to the fact the core essence of improv lies in its spontaneity and ability to react in the moment which are skills that are invaluable for actors navigating the unpredictable terrain of live performance or on set productions. Improv teaches actors to trust their instincts and embrace their character choices. It instills confidence in actors empowering them to take risks and embrace failure as part of the creative process. It provides a safe space for actors to explore experiments and ultimately discover the boundless potential of their acting abilities. In the world of theater or film where scripts can sometimes change at the last minute, or directors will completely change a scene and throw a curveball at you, improv allows the actor to have the ability to think quickly and adapt seamlessly with confidence.

One of the greatest gifts of improv for actors is its emphasis on active listening and collaboration.

Because in an improv scene success hinges not only on one’s own contributions but also on the ability to support and build upon the ideas of the fellow performers. It’s a collaborative dynamic that embraces a deep sense of ensemble work and teaches actors to be fully present and engaged with their scene partners, which elevates performances and fosters a sense of spontaneity and realism. 

Improv theater isn’t just about the stage and entertainment, it’s also a training ground for life itself.

The principles and skills learned in improv classes extend far beyond the theatrical arts offering invaluable lessons that can enhance personal and professional growth in countless ways. Some of my past students in improv weren’t even actors. Some were lawyers and salesman that wanted to get more confident talking in front of people. I’ve had students that didn’t even want to perform, they just wanted to take an improv class to break through their introvert shell. They do this because improv embraces the idea of uncertainty. Life is inherently unpredictable, filled with unexpected twists and turns things can change in the drop of a hat.

Improv teaches us to embrace uncertainty to adapt and respond in the moment without fear of failure.
By learning to trust our instincts and go with the flow we become more resilient and better equipped to navigate life’s challenges with grace and confidence. Improv also encourages us to think outside the box. It expands our creativity and especially our problem solving skills. It helps us to explore new ideas and perspectives, and to approach problems with the sense of playfulness, confidence and curiosity. By embracing the art of improv mentality of yes, we learned to build upon each other’s ideas rather than shutting them down. The improv mindset fosters innovation and collaboration empowering us to find creative solutions to even the most daunting of challenges.

When it comes to challenges, improv teaches us to embrace failure as there are no mistakes.
By embracing failure as a natural part of the creative process we free ourselves from fear of judgment and the ever looming perfectionism that often holds everyone back in life. We become more willing to take risks, to step outside our comfort zones and to embrace the journey of the unknown with courage and resilience.  

In essence, improv is a very powerful performance art form but in reality, to me, it’s the philosophy for living a mindset that empowers us to navigate life’s uncertainties with confidence and creativity and a touch of humor. The lessons that I’ve learned on the improv stage have empowered me to become not only a better actor, but also a stronger director. In reality, it’s enriched every aspect of my life.  

Nick Cutelli 2023 headshot

Meet the Writer & NTPA Southlake Program Director – Nick Cutelli

Nick Cutelli, a versatile talent with a knack for comedic storytelling, is your guide to a world of laughter and entertainment. With a BFA from Southeast Missouri State and an ongoing MFA pursuit at the University of Idaho, Nick combines a solid foundation in theater with a fresh upbeat comedic perspective.

Originally hailing from the creative hubs of Chicago improv comedy and Los Angeles, Nick is excited to join the ranks of amazing directors at NTPA. His journey from Chicago’s Second City to the Lone Star State is a testament to his adaptability and artistic exploration.
With a Midwest charm and West Coast innovation, Nick brings a unique flavor to Texas theater. Don’t miss his upcoming productions for a dose of humor and unforgettable performances.