Last night was my first improv class in a new term. I wasn’t feeling like myself most of this week… there are so many things going on right now and I feel like I’m constantly trying to catch up. I’ve kind of been drifting along and my only expectation for myself was to fight past my urge to nap and show up for class.
Within the first few minutes of meeting my teacher, I was hooked. All of my thoughts about the past week disappeared. Any nerves that came from feeling like I needed to impress a new group disintegrated. Just a few minutes into class, he offered this advice:
“None of us will ever be good at this. That’s not what class is for. You’re here to learn, so let’s all agree to be terrible. Let’s come in, suck together and just have fun. I hate when a student walks out of class with his head down thinking of what he could have done better. That’s not what this is about.”
Yes. He was speaking my language. I was instantly at ease and ready to work.
I constantly get asked why I perform. Why I put in all the hours and work for something that is so based on chance. I give away so many bullshit answers – the environment, the feeling of performing, the ability to do something creative. It all boils down to one thing… I fucking love it. It makes me happy. I find it fun.
So when a teacher tells me that all I have to do is have fun, everything else escapes from my mind. I trust my head and the choices it’s going to make, so I visualize throwing my brain out the door. The brain is kicked out of the door and the sponge replaces it. I watch my classmates like a kindergartener watching a 5th grader. I take notes like there’s going to be a pop quiz at the end of the day. I listen to my teacher like he’s the smartest person in the world. Then, when it’s my turn to get up and perform, I look at my teammate and think to myself, “This is going to be really fucking fun.”
Sometimes the stars align and I have an incredible class. Other nights, I find myself either throwing up words or at a loss for them. But either way, I’m having fun.
Last night was one of those nights where the stars aligned and I went on autopilot. I didn’t preplan anything, I was truly improvising in the moment, and it was well received. It was one of those times where you snap out of it at the end and think, well that was really easy. That felt good.
Then my teammate said the one thing that kills me. After class, he came up to me and said I’m so sorry that I screwed up that scene. He was barely able to look me in the eye. He had that same look of utter disappointment and shame that I used to have.
I used to be really hard on myself. Like, really hard on myself. I just felt like if I were really good enough, I wouldn’t have a bad scene. If I don’t make a team, there’s no way I’m going to make a bigger audition down the line. If I’m truly talented, I won’t fuck up… and the fact that I’m fucking up means that I’m obviously not good enough. When I failed, I never thought I’d make it because clearly I’m not really that great. When I succeeded, there was always someone better than me… which means that I’m still not good enough.
But somewhere along the line I stopped caring. I started getting better instead. When I lost my fear of impressing people, I found that I was able to live in the moment… which is what great scene work is made out of anyways. When you’re constantly afraid of your teacher, director, class, audience, yourself… you preoccupy yourself with worrying and you’re never going to be able to think. When you decide that you don’t give a shit what someone thinks and allow yourself to just have fun, that space is now cleared out and you can have fun.
So when he apologized to me, I felt awful. I recently posted this picture on my Facebook, and it describes how I felt in a nutshell:
I wanted to tell him that I just had one of my best scenes ever. That I’ve had rehearsals where I came home and cried because I never thought I would be good enough. I wanted to tell him that I only get one out of four auditions I go to. I wanted to tell him that I have spent most of the past two years trying to figure this art out… going to multiple shows a week, auditioning for anything I can, performing in 25 different shows with 6 different groups, interning to get more time in the theatre… and the only thing I’ve come to learn is that no one ever perfects it. I’ve seen some of my comedy idols completely fail in a show. Once you see that, you realize that everyone fails at some point.
Instead, I just gave him the only advice I could think of. Don’t ever feel like you have to apologize to me during a scene. It’ll never be your fault.
Because if he feels insecure during a scene, that’s my problem too. I need to learn how to support him better. The best improvisers make their scene partners feel like a rock star… and I didn’t do that. The best improvisers make their scene partners feel like no matter what they do, it’ll be the right answer. So if you feel shitty about a scene, that’s something that we both need to work on. That’s not your problem, that’s our problem.
Next time, let’s just have fun together.