Justin Howard is the owner of Black Box Improv Theater and runs Emerge Improv, a company that offers workshops for businesses to help working teams think on their feet and radically collaborate.
Improv is short for “improvisation” and improv theater involves creating short plays, skits or musicals without prior planning, on the spot, based on prompts from each other or from an audience. Howard incorporates improv into every aspect of his work, whether he is teaching classes, hosting shows by local performers at his theater or performing himself.
What about improv theater keeps you coming back?
The longer I do it the more complex it is. Listening is an abstract concept to most people until it becomes critical for your success. It’s challenging and it forces you to view the world and communication in a way that is counterintuitive. It’s the ultimate team activity. You are reliant on everyone on the stage and I think it is sometimes very eye-opening for people.
What skills and lessons can people apply from an improv workshop to other areas of their lives?
We learn about listening, both to verbal and nonverbal communication. Improv also helps your ability to think quickly on your feet. We also talk a lot about how to work together as a team. I teach a different kind of storytelling: it’s about how to pick up on the energy in the room, to see how people are responding to what you are saying, as a means of telling creative stories in a compelling way.
What is it about Dayton that produces great improv performances?
There’s so much talent here. I look at performers and say, “I don’t want you to leave Dayton, but why hasn’t someone picked you up yet? You’ve got something special.” I think there is a concentration of talent here because if you live in this area you have to work at it to be an artist; you have to make your own way. If you’re an artist in Dayton you’re going to fight for it. That’s Dayton: it’s gritty, awesome and cool.
What are your hopes for Dayton in the coming years?
My biggest wish for Dayton is for people to just be more apt to be together, fighting for just and right things. I want us to value human beings and I think it’s happening here. I think this year has rallied people together. Dayton is poised for a good future.
What advice do you give people who are considering improv for the first time?
I think anything you do to better yourself is worth doing regardless of what it is. Improv is a uniquely challenging thing to do and it’s a worthy endeavor. I would say it’s probably one of the most life-altering things I’ve seen and everyone who does it totally understands; they say, “not only did I have fun, but I changed how I looked at the world,” or “I challenged myself.”