How Improv Theater Can Make You Better at Dating
NEW YORK CITY — "I'm so excited for me to meet Tom," said improviser Jenna Marucci, 27, her emphasis on "me" drawing a roaring laugh from the audience at the Players Theatre, where Marucci stands on stage.
Tom, a New Jersey schoolteacher, walks out to greet Marucci on stage with an awkwardness that's a telltale sign of a first date — a fumbling handshake to a strained hug to a half-hearted cheek kiss.
A very real date of drinks and dinner unravels for the next 45 minutes. On a stage. With a live audience. Completely improvised.
Marucci says she's "most comfortable on a stage, [and] least comfortable on a date."
So she combined the two, bringing real dates to mingle with her during her show, "See Jenna Date."
Meeting a potential romantic interest for the first time in front a dozens of spectators would unnerve almost anyone, but this improv show is helping Marucci deal with a fear of dating.
"I think it has helped me realize that with any sit-down on a date I should just play it like improv and just be honest and not nervous thinking about the next thing," said Marucci, who lives in Windsor Terrace.
"Those are great things to do when talking to someone, especially guys on a date."
The guiding principles of improv can help people become better daters, according to dating coaches and students of that particular brand of comedy.
DNAinfo consulted with a few experts on how improv can improve your dating game.
1. Become a Focused Listener
The first thing Laurent, 27, learned in improv classes at the Magnet Theater was to listen. If he didn't, a scene — or a date — would go nowhere.
"In general, women like a good listener and it is an easy way to connect with someone," said the consultant who lives in Manhattan.
Intently planning your next line will prevent you from living in the moment and engaging with the person opposite you, said Laurent, who declined to give his last name.
"When we are on a date, people want to be heard," said Ali Farahnakian, who founded the People's Improv Theater (the PIT) in New York City in 2002.
As a listening exercise, Farahnakian has two improv students maintain a conversation in front of the class. The first person to interrupt the other loses the game.
"People think what they have to say is more important, but there is nothing more important than listening," he said.
2. The Truth is Always the Best Joke
While improv theater is seen as a comedian's training ground, it won't help you develop a set of never-fail jokes, according to improv coach Evan Barden, 28. Instead, it empowers you to be truthful.
A witty joke or funny voice might extract a "lower case" laugh from the audience, but the truth can be rewarded with a wholehearted "upper case" laugh, said Barden, who ran the project 100 Dates, where he documented all the dates he went on in 2012.
"It's that you somehow touched on the nerve of a truth about humanity or something," he said.
For Rick Andrews, 28, an improv coach at the Magnet Theater, truth in humor stems from genuine reactions to a situation or another person whether on a stage or on a date.
"People react to each other and that's what makes them people — when they are vulnerable and affected," he said.
3. Facing the Unknown
Many improv groups create a performance around a topic that's suggested by the audience at the beginning of the show.
That spontaneous essence of improv provides "a philosophy, and more importantly a repeatable technique, for individuals to take risks and approach people they're interested in," according to Richard Hollman, an improv coach who has helped daters for the last two years through NewYorkDatingCoach.com
Hollman throws dating clients into exercises such as a "Press Conference" where the client is given a random topic to speak on with conviction and clarity for one minute. Another exercise requires the client to sustain friendly banter with another person as Hollman throws in conversation topics.
4. "Yes, and" Until It's a "No, Thank You"
The well-known improv tenet of "Yes, and" requires stage partners to accept a premise that a team member introduces in the scene rather than contradict it or deny the assertion.
Arthur Malov from NewYorkDatingCoach.com said the principle can remove one's jaded tendency to say 'No' to a dating opportunity.
On a date, the "yes and" principal could translate where someone tells an embarrassing story and the other person backs them up by sharing their own embarrassing story, according to Barden, adding that "you can get a lot more mileage out of dating if you just go down that rabbit hole for a little while."
But "yes and" is not a path to a compromising situation. The truth, another principal of improv, always trumps a "yes and," according to Farahnakian, from the PIT.
"You're on a date and someone says let's do some shots and you think 'I really don't want to do some shots,'" he said. "That is when you have to employ 'No, thank you.'"
The next "See Jenna Date" performance will be in September, but a theater and date have yet to be confirmed. Follow Marucci on Twitter @JMarucci for updates.