Important Things I (Re)Learned by Teaching Improv 101
It showed up out of nowhere.
I was slapped hard recently with some serious performance anxiety. I felt like such a fraud. How could I go on stage with these great performers who trusted me, when I didn’t even trust me?
I felt like I had nothing to give, like I had done all the improv that I could do–yes, every funny thing that I ever had to say had been said and it was time to hang up my improv hat for good.
Around that same time, I was asked to be a teaching assistant for an improv 101 class. I said “yes” without even thinking about it (hey look, improv!) and boy, am I glad I did. Revisiting basic concepts and remembering the fun of this crazy and liberating art that we do was exactly what I needed.
Here are things that I had to (re)learn:
If there is anything that we focused on in 101, it was to listen, and if there is anything 101ers did and did well, it was listen! They saw everything as a gift and rarely let anything drop.
I realized that “yes anding” isn’t always equal to listening.
It gets easier to pursue your own agenda in a scene without truly considering what is being said. There are plenty of things that I mishear or let drop because I want to play a specific side of a scene.
Slowing down and not over anticipating what my partner is going to say or taking a brief pause to truly hear and let the words simmer has been so beneficial to my scene work lately.
2. It’s okay if you have nothing to say.
Let me be clear, having nothing to say doesn’t mean not having a point of view. In fact, maybe it’s a good thing to have nothing to say.
If you don’t know what to say, just do something–pour a bowl of cereal, a cup of coffee, pour your eyes out, just do it! And do it with purpose and emotion. Doing something is a great offer to your partner, and together, you guys will figure the scene out.
You just have to DO something, first.
3. When all else fails, fail.
I have been told this over and over again, but let’s be honest, it is hard to fail.
It feels like we should try to backtrack or save the scene or I don’t know, play small and get the hell out of there as quickly as I can, but when you make a choice, own it, and when it fails, own it more, and when it is really painful to be on stage, own it even harder.
Don’t half ass anything in improv, especially failure. It’s made up on the spot, everything that you do is not going to be a masterpiece. AND THAT’S OKAY!
I learned and relearned so much more, but I believe in the power of threes so I will leave you with this.
A few weeks ago, before a show, I was feeling exceptionally anxious and unsure why I would even try to play.
“I have nothing,” I said to a fellow improviser with about 18 years more experience than me.
He responded with “That’s one way of looking at it, or you can look at it like you have everything that you need.”
We are all, presumably, human with unique and wonderful experiences that we can pull from and share with an audience on any given night. We all have everything we need. And, it’s true, I did have everything that night.
I came with everything I needed and my scene partners had everything they needed and together we built a show that was great or mediocre or a HUGE failure and at the end of the night, we let it all go, had drinks and laughs, and talked about how much fun it will be when we get to do it all again.