I don't have any studies to back this up but I'm pretty sure every improviser goes through a phase where they say to themselves:
"I think I'm getting worse at improv."
Let's take a look at why that may be happening.
Havin' a ball
When you're starting out, you're having fun. This new improv thing is a blast! Everyone is so friendly! I get to be funny! It's good times all around.
But if you keep going, you start to watch shows and see some great performers. And as the classes go on, you eventually start to struggle with some of the ideas. Maybe your scenes aren't as fun anymore. It starts to feel like work.
You try to relax. You try to have a good time. But it's not getting better. Ugh. Maybe I should quit...
And many people do at this point. Why continue if it's no fun anymore? Why continue if I'm no good at this?
What the freak is goin' on here?
Here's my theory of what's happening: you really are getting better at improv but you just don't know it yet.
The problem is that at the start you don't really know what you're doing, you're having fun just doing any old thing. As you progress, you start learning more and more about all the little things that go into a good scene. You start watching shows and compare yourself to people who've been doing this for a long time. You can't do what they do.
It feels like the work you do just isn't living up to your own standards, never mind anyone else's.
It's graph time
Here's the crux of the issue: you're learning about improv faster than your ability to execute is growing.
It is much easier to learn about improv than to be able to do it so as time goes on, you will learn very quickly. Concepts like game, object work, heightening, and so on can be understood in a pretty short time. You can *get* the idea. Being able to do that on stage? Consistently? That takes more time, more reps. But the more you do (with feedback), the better you are getting. That is true for everyone. I promise.
So why doesn't it feel like I'm getting better?
Let's look at that graph again. Your knowledge (blue) is growing quickly. Your ability (red) is also growing but more slowly. The gap between what you know and what you are able to do keeps getting bigger. And that definitely feels like you are getting worse. But it's an illusion! That red line is going up the whole time.
Your taste and your standards grow quickly. That's normal. That's good! Your skills grow slowly. That's also normal. And it's also frustrating. So the good news is that you are indeed getting better. The bad news is that it 100% feels like the opposite.
But if you can push through this feeling, if you can keep going knowing what is really happening, things get better. The gap gets smaller.
Your rate of learning eventually slows. Your rate of improving eventually grows. This will happen at different times for different people but that gap narrows and it feels so great to be able to perform at a level that matches (or at least comes close to) your expectations.
It's important to note that those two lines might never touch for long (it'd be surprising if they did). And that gap will eventually grow again once you start exploring new areas of improv. And then shrink again as you master them. You will always go through these waves of feeling like you're good at improv and then bad again. This feeling of getting worse at something is simply a natural consequence of how we learn new skills.
If you can handle that feeling, accept it as sometimes being part of the process, accept that you are getting better at this thing (just very slowly), you will get to a place where you feel pretty darn good about your work.
By Vinny Francois