I was super excited when my friend Riley answered my call last month for guest bloggers to share their thoughts about different connection card messages (in this case, “Ease”). I really enjoyed the piece she wrote, and I hope you do, too!
Performing scripted theater is thrilling. I feel a combat-comrade bond with my cast-mates. I feel a mounting anticipation in the days leading up to a performance and butterflies in my stomach as I wait in the wings before my entrance. Afterward, I feel so exhilarated that my feet don't touch the ground, as though I were floating outside of the flow of my life.
In contrast performing improv comedy isn’t thrilling, and it is my true love. What I feel for my improv cast-mates is a warm collegiality. It's less intense; instead, there is an appreciation and sense of shared authorship when we create improv gold together. After a good improv performance, I feel deeply happy and energized. I feel as though I am in swimming in the very center of the current of my life, and at that moment I wish I could perform improv every day.
The difference is fear vs flow.
The thrill of scripted performance is based on fear and the relief from fear. For me, it’s enjoyable but exhausting. Improv is essentially free of fear for me. It’s simply what I do.
Improv isn’t scary, because it’s forgiving, and because I’m prepared, and because it’s my thing. For one thing, improv audiences appreciate that we're creating something spontaneous and unique, and they root for the performers. Also, almost any mishap is an opportunity for comedy – a performer misspeaking, part of the set falling over, or a long coughing fit in the audience. As long as the improvisors engage with the mishaps, rather than trying to cover them up, they enhance the show.
Learning to roll with mishaps, work collaboratively, respond quickly, and build on what has gone before takes practice, and of course my continuing to put in the hours reduces fear. Also, improv is really well matched to my strengths and taste.
Finally, improv isn’t scary to me because I’ve observed that, if I start in a good frame of mind, I’m reliably funny. Funny enough. If I haven't worked much with one of my cast-mates, perhaps we're klunky together. If a mishap occurs, perhaps I don't capitalize on it as well as I could. But my contribution to the performance is consistently a net positive -- the audience responds, and my cast-mates are happy. With the right frame of mind, I have nothing to worry about.
(My bad performances are consistently due to a bad frame of mind. My next step is to build skills for getting out of a funk!)
I wonder how others’ experiences when doing “their thing” compare to mine. And is it different for the thrill-seekers among us, who might find something lacking in these warm but not intense feelings of flow? Please share!
Riley Hart is a nonprofit manager and facilitator who spends a lot of time being goofy on stage. She is a member of two performing improv troupes and is affiliated with the Mopco Improv Theatre in Schenectady, NY. Riley is available to lead your group in a fun and supportive session of improv games. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.