Amy Poehler’s Awesome Harvard Speech

Amy Poehler looking wise from New York Magazine, 23 May 2011
New York Magazine, 23 May 2011

Jezebel.com recently posted Amy Poehler’s speech to the graduating class at Harvard. She is funny and lovely throughout and also has some advice for the graduates to help them through life. The following are useful things to remember when you are doing improv and also in life!

“I moved to Chicago in the early 1990s and I studied improvisation there. I learned some rules that I try to apply still today: Listen. Say yes. Live in the moment. Make sure you play with people who have your back. Make big choices early and often. Don’t start a scene where two people are talking about jumping out of a plane. Start the scene having already jumped. If you’re scared, look into your partner’s eyes — you will feel better.”

I did a couple of improv courses with John Dawson who, life Amy Poehler, is a Second City graduate. I had these rules drilled into me in those classes. My favourite is Make big choices early and often. – I think that is great advice for life on-stage and off.

Improv workshops

Dawson Drama Works are currently advertising their Autumn term workshops – Improvisation, The Craft of Character Acting and The Craft of On-Camera Acting. I did the Improvisation course a couple of times last year and really enjoyed it. It is a course that I could do again and again because I think with improv, you need a lot of practise to really get good at it. And you can’t practice it on your own!

The course does starts at the beginning with the basic rules of improv but even with 10 years experience doing improv at youth theatre and in college, I still found that useful. It’s good to remind yourself of simple stuff. The classes are a decent length. In the three hours, there is time to warm-up, get your brain working, learn something and have a bit of fun before it’s time to go home again. My classes were on a Monday night and I was often not in the mood after a days work, sometimes I was just back after a weekend away (my brain definitely didn’t work well those days!) but even when I had to drag myself to class, I was always glad I did and left feeling like I had accomplished something.

And, at the end of the six-week class, you get to go onstage and put all your new skills to use in put of a real-life, paying audience. It’s terrifying, but in a good way, and you feel great afterwards! There’s really nothing to worry about – you are well prepared for the night and you are not on stage on your own – you’re up there with all your other class-mates.

The classes are a little expensive but I really enjoyed them and felt like I’d learnt a lot at the end of six weeks.