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You just did a show! You did it. You did the thing. You were there, with your team, in that moment making something that didn’t exist before. You really did it!
I'd like you to allow yourself to get off stage happy with just the simple fact that you did a thing.
Was it great? Maybe, maybe not. Some people might think so, some might not. You might not. You might, but someone else in your team might not. You know what—who cares!? It’s ethereal and it’s gone now. "If it’s not easy, you're learning and that’s amazing” (Ward, J. 2017). A so-called "bad" show, whether it’s just you or the whole damn theatre who thought it was bad, is no reason to be sad! There will be another one. And another... and another. You’ll get better, and better and better.
I've had shows ruined by getting off stage and hearing someone on my team spitting fire at themselves, or worse, me, for the show being bad. Life is too damn short for that! I want to be great, I really do, I work at it every day, I obsess over improv all the time. I really give a shit about this art form. I truly find beauty in the process of improvisation: two humans interlocking and finding the show together in a moment is up there with my favourite things, ever. However, if I perform some real potent garbage, which I feel like I did as recently as last Saturday, I need to learn from it and I laugh at it. I learn nothing from hating myself for it.
Scott Williams, a master Meisner teacher from the UK put it to me like this:
- Your inner critic is the loudest voice in every room.
- Your inner critic lies to you.
- You believe it.
- You can’t work while it’s talking to you.
(Williams, S 2016)
Occasionally I request that students politely ask their inner critics to wait outside the building until we are done for the night. They can have a big chat with their critic on the tram home from class if they want, but for now we have work to do. While your inner critic gasbags at you unrelentingly, I guarantee you, there are people in the audience impressed that you just improvised that! They don’t want to come out of the theatre and have their perception that you did well crushed by your self-deprecation when they thank you for the show. You just did that! Be proud of your work.
(SIDE NOTE: Talk to your audience. They just gave you their time. Spend a few moments longer being available to them. Chances are, if you’re feeling blergh, they feel very differently about your show than you do. Let them say “good show”: this is fun for them, and if you learn to accept that comment and say “thank you", it’s great for you too.)
You just played a character you never expected. You just sang a song that didn’t exist moments ago. You just made someone’s day a little bit brighter with your playfulness. You did it.
From a coaching point of view, your coach can’t highlight to you all the things we can work on if you’re beating yourself up. I personally don’t like kicking the wounded. Plus, you’re already upset… your inner critic is talking too loud and won’t let you listen to your coach, and that coach actually knows way more about the show and your personal performance than your silly inner critic who LIES AND IS WRONG. If you come out of your show looking at all the positives, and recapping with your pals all the fun stuff that happened, then you and your coach will find it much easier to speak constructively and critically about the show. Remember that we are training to laugh in the face of failure. Stop forgetting that!
You just created spontaneous theatre of the moment. It’s no walk in the park. What you did is impressive. Some people saw what you just did and thought "I could NEVER do that". You were winning the moment you stepped on stage. You did it.
Here’s what this post is not about: I’m not suggesting that everything is rosy and every show is good. I certainly don’t think every show is the best that we/I can do. I’ve never ever been in or seen a perfect improv show and I doubt I ever will. Despite that fact, I love the chase. This is about acknowledging that a perceived bad show is not the end of the world, and if we are open to it, it likely holds keys to a greater understanding. Shut your inner critic up so you can find the lesson.
You just spent time with pals making theatre. People laughed. You chased whimsies and did things you never knew you were going to do. Celebrate. You did it.
My team Small Car’s usual lighting/sound tech Alex Chilton has likely seen more of our shows than anyone. He’s seen us at our best and at our absolute worst. We have performed some real dirt on stage, and he was there for it. Whether I loved a show or felt like it was a pile of trash, I can’t wait to laugh about it with Andrew and Mario, and I can’t wait to talk to Alex because I know he won’t lie about his opinions. He’ll either talk about the great bits, or commiserate and share his thoughts about how or why it was as rough as it was. I can’t wait to get a little bit of his insight into what I can learn from a performance. You see, I won’t ever perform at the same quality that would suit my taste. The endless pursuit keeps me hungry for it. If I learned everything there is to know about improv and knew that I'd be guaranteed to kill it every time I stepped on stage, I’d find that boring.
Instead, I celebrate that I just did it. My pals and I did it. We did the thing. I’m so lucky.
I believe that we learn better when we are happy. An improv moment you can learn from is not a moment you need to be frustrated about. You expect a lot from yourself. Good on you, noble warrior. Just don’t do yourself a disservice by being unhappy when you feel you don’t do your best. This is the best moment for you to learn how to do better next time.
This is also not a "happiness is a choice" fluff piece. Choosing happiness in every day life is easier said than done sometimes, but don’t let this wonderful art form be tied to negative self-talk. This is a place to play, this is where you work on your whimsies, and this is where you get to win!
You’re an artist, and you really did it!