How to Improvise With CouragePosted: 3 December 2012
“Vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love…”
I saw this video on vulnerability by Brene Brown a while ago. It spoke to me then and it makes even more sense to me now as I rewatch it.
When I started improvising I think I had a subconscious notion that it was an osmotic process where I would do lots of workshops and somehow accrue a shelf of improv-knowledge. Then I could march into any scene with an array of shelves from which I would draw my weaponry.
Except the more I learned the harder it seemed to improvise, because other people had not necessarily studied the same things as me. What has really worked for me is changing my attitude to workshops and shows, influenced by things I have learned outside improv. It has echoes of similarities with what Michael describes in this post.
Now I will pick out some of the things in Brene’s video that articulated things I have learned, and how I put that into practice in improv.
1. The choice to say I love you first.
This is about trust. I don’t know if a new person is going to be a ‘good’ improviser or a ‘bad’ improviser. Now I treat everyone like a ‘good’ improviser and every scene with them is fun and goes somewhere. I choose to say ‘Yes and’ first instead of worrying if they are going to support my idea. They are supporting me already by being there. The ones who support back and listen to me are the people I try to work with more.
2. Let myself be seen.
This was one of the scariest ones for me. I realised I had reached a limit in how clever or funny I could be, and I needed to start playing more emotional characters, which is not how I see myself. Then I did it, and after the initial fear and feeling of exposure I settled into doing it more naturally, and I can’t imagine wanting to improvise any other way. I’m there to share something created in the moment with the other improvisers and the audience. That’s it. It has given me confidence that has cascaded into the rest of my life as well. Just being honest and open about what I am feeling in any given moment has allowed me to set boundaries and connect with other people like nothing else. I cannot imagine wanting to live any other way.
3. I am enough.
This is a funny one. I relate it to the idea above of not trying to be funny or clever, because that seems like I am trying to prove something. Now when I get up in front of a new audience I try not to impress them, I just trust that they are interested in what I have. Not because it’s new or special or brilliant, but because it’s mine. I love watching individuals talk about what they love, or do things they love doing. I extend that same respect to the audience, they probably will dig what I’m doing, as long as its genuinely mine. And if they don’t, then they are not my audience.
It goes pretty deep I have found. It’s more fun in workshops for me now too. I don’t worry about convincing people how much I know about improv, I just listen to everyone else. That way at the end instead of repeating my 1 idea 12 times I have listened to 12 new ideas. (Then I write those ideas down on slips of paper and devour them like wisdom-cookies, making cookie-monster om-nom-nom-nom sounds. I feel it making me smarter every day.)
So that is that. They are very simple things but can be very challenging to do, and of course they need awareness and effort to put into practice. But I would much rather put my effort into vulnerability than armour myself with techniques and ideas which are fancy suits of armour. It looks impressive but you can’t breathe inside it.
If you are a human being reading this then I would like to declare my interest in your courage. If you are doing something then please give yourself permission to do it whole-heartedly, because you are scared. That’s how it works, it ain’t easy. But what a lucky challenge, to worry about being genuinely yourself, that’s a pretty awesome challenge.
Now eat this thing! OM-NOM-NOM-NOM.