A friend of mine shared this blog post that is titled: 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy. It’s a great post and surely sound advice for people. My mind however, immediately started to apply it to improv. So, using this blog post as a guide, here are “10 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy… With Your Improv” (this list is in no particular order of importance)
1. Give up your need to always be right (This is also number one on the other post). Being in a troupe even of just two people, it is impossible for your improv performance to go exactly as you want it to go. By feeling the need to be right, at all times in an improv scene, you are really limiting your performance as well as not supporting your scene partner. There is no right or wrong in improv. All that matters is the moment and whether you are in it or not. If you are judging that moment to be wrong, then you are NOT in it.
2. Give up your need for control. A lot like number one. Sometimes, in scenes we have a GREAT IDEA that we just have to get out. Oftentimes, it’ll come at the expense of the scene as well as your scene partner. You’ll see it all the time. You can almost see the moment as soon as the improviser has it on stage. It’s literally like a light bulb has gone off in their head. Their eyes light up and the next thing that comes out of their mouth is pushing whatever agenda they just came up with, instead of playing off of what their scene partner just said or did. Instead of a fluid scene you now have almost two separate scenes.
3. Let people praise you. Improvisers are insecure people, generally. For some reason, this art seems to attract that personality trait. Next time someone says “Great job” to you after a show, thank them, wholeheartedly. They don’t care that you felt like shit during it. They don’t care or even know what you mean when you say “I was in my head the whole time.” They are going out of their way to give you praise and let you know that they enjoyed what you just did. Be happy about it. Or at least fake it. To me it’s very selfish to undermine the compliment they just gave you. Look them in the eyes, say “Thank you” and mean it. Cut yourself later, during your own time.
4. Give up your limiting beliefs. I love this idea. In life and in improv. I watch a lot of improv. I try to make every show and workshop. The main lesson I’ve learned by watching so much improv is realizing, “Oh, I can do that on stage.” I personally enjoy very realistic scenes with real people in them, but that doesn’t mean my improvisation is limited to only doing that type of improv. Absurdity can be a helluva lot of fun too. Oftentimes, when something absurd happens, someone who is close minded will negate it in some way. “Oh, grandma, you didn’t take your pills today did you?” That may be my least favorite choice that I have ever witnessed in improv. Basically, you are saying that the person next to you is terrible. To me, you are saying that you lack imagination and you are scared to do a scene based upon the absurdity your scene partner just gifted you. Get over yourself. Play absurdity. You may be surprised at what you are able to pull off and how much fun you will have.
5. Give up your need to impress others. The best way I’ve heard this put is in Jimmy Carrane’s book Improvising Better where he puts it as “The improv jury only exists in your head.” Too often we are worried about how other people, especially improvisers, will judge our work. We show that we are better than others by pointing out shoddy object work done by a scene partner or we break the fourth wall for some META game move that let’s everyone in the audience know how good or smart we are. Quit trying to impress others with your improv. How great would we all be, if instead we thought of how we can help our partner impress everyone?
6. Be ready to change. Improvisation is unscripted. It’s going to end up in a completely different direction than you thought it would. You have to be able to adapt constantly from moment to moment. Be open to change and embrace that change. An audience rarely exists in the past or worries about the future of a show. They are watching it RIGHT NOW in real time. You should be in real time too. If you can stay in the present, you’ll be ready to change, instantly, as it’s needed.
7. Give up Labels. I like this one a lot. I was teaching some students the other day and it was an exercise where you give an improviser a secret want or label. I whispered to a female improviser that she “is having an affair with her scene partner’s significant other.” Her scene partner was a guy. So, the scene plays out and she basically labels herself as a woman, her partner as a guy and her scene partner’s significant other as a female. So, she was sleeping with her male scene partners female significant other. Nothing wrong with that. She did however seem, to me at least, a bit uncomfortable with this idea. Again, great. No big deal. But, why does she have to play as a woman? Why does her scene partner have to be a guy? They could both be guys. They could both be girls. The significant other could also be a guy or a girl. We are not a man or a woman in a scene until we are labeled as such. Until the scene begins to develop and we learn who the characters are, it’s a blank slate. Don’t be so quick to label your scene partner or yourself. I personally have an issue with this because I try to play women in scenes fairly often. But, what I’ve noticed is that when I try to do this, unless I am making myself obviously a woman, my scene partner labels me as a gay guy. Which, again, is fine. It doesn’t bother me to play a gay guy. Percentage-wise though, it would make more sense to be labeled a woman rather than a gay guy. There are more women in the world then gay men. It’s okay to label your scene partner any of these things. It’s okay for you to be open to be any of these things. The key, in my opinion is listening closely to your scene partner and figuring out what it is exactly they are going for.
8. Follow your fear. We’ve all heard this. From intro to improv to advanced improv we are taught to go after our fears. We are told that if something scares you, do it. Trying to do this in life lately, I feel as though I have learned a lot and I am truly happy. The best advice for this one that I have heard is not only to go after your fear, but to continue to go after your fear. Don’t just do it once. Keep doing it. If you do something that everyone knows you are uncomfortable with, over and over again, it’s going to translate well with the audience and you’ll become a better improviser by doing it.
9. Give up the past and attachment. The only time that the past comes into play with improv is through callbacks. Otherwise you should constantly be in the moment. Also, give up being too attached to an idea or a game. In the Deconstruction workshop a few weeks ago, we were told “In the end all that matters is to have a good scene.” You can bring the most amazing idea or game to a scene but, if your scene partner is not on board, it will not work. Give it up. Find the relationship between the two of you. Then explore that.
10. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations. I really liked this from the original blog post, that has inspired this list. To me, it means that if you aren’t worried about what others think you should be doing and instead you are focused on what is right for you, in this moment, then the choices you make will be the best choices to make. I think great surprises in scenes comes from this idea. You are so in the moment and you aren’t judging everything that is coming out of your or your partner’s mouth. That leads to you starting a sentence or an action and then it going in a completely unexpected direction. That unexpectedness almost always leads to laughter and appreciation by the audience and your teammates. You’ve heard crazy things come out of people’s mouths and it’s almost always an awe-inspiring moment. In my opinion, the two keys to great comedy is relatedness and surprise. Surprising yourself is the ultimate moment as an improviser.