Shake Off the Nerves, It’s Showtime

I was equal parts nervous and excited about the class show. I perform in a musical context much more often than in a theatrical one; and often, I wake up the morning of the gig totally freaking out and wondering why I ever thought I could play in front of an audience. Unexpectedly, when I woke up the morning of our class show, I felt relatively calm. I went to work, managed to not drink a single beer at my office Christmas party (I wanted my brain to be at its top processing capacity), and was feeling good, even when I walked into the theater. We did our warm-ups, which included a rousing and spirited game of Samurai (a game where we pretend to cut each other down with swords, involving a lot of yelling and throwing of imaginary weapons). With my family in the lobby area, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going through their heads as they heard the sounds of violent death echoing through the theater.

Our class was split into two teams (my team was “Taco Bar, Attack!”) and Karen taught each team a new warm-up game. We stood in a circle with our arms around each other, closed our eyes, and tried to count to twenty, one person at time. If we talked over each other, we had to begin again, and we couldn’t say numbers in the order in which we were standing; we had to jump around the circle. As we were playing that game, I realized how much improv is not about me. All of my anxiety up until that point had centered on myself–how would feel onstage, and what ideas I would come up with. But I realized in the circle that whether I did a good job or a not so good one, my individual performance didn’t matter that much at all. What’s important are the relationships you form on stage and how your character interacts with your partner’s character.

I felt good right up until we were called onstage. When we walked out, I saw a lot of more seasoned improvisers, a few of whom I knew already, and that’s when I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. At that moment, it didn’t feel supportive to have the whole community there—it felt terrifying. However, as we began the warm-up scenes, I started to feel good and to stop worrying. I even began to feel peaceful onstage, and I felt my team members relax too. The audience was great—they were supportive in their suggestions, they laughed a lot and applauded us after every scene. Every time the audience laughed at something I said, I could hardly believe it was happening. “Me? Seriously? They’re laughing at me?” I’ve never been the class clown or the funny friend, so it was extremely satisfying to be able to make people laugh.

My favorite moment from the performance was a scene I did with Russ. It was a warm-up scene and the prompt was “old married couple.” We walked onto the stage and made eye contact. Russ changed his face to look unhappy and disapproving, and in reaction I started to hunch over and make an old, cranky face back. My facial expression and posture made Russ change his posture to match mine. As we began talking, it truly felt like we were reacting to each other, and discovering ourselves and each other’s characters. I thought to myself, “This is improv. This is how it’s supposed to be.” It felt so organic, and the scene was entirely about our team work.

After the show, a few of us went out for the promised margarita. I’m sad to see this class end, but I’m already looking forward to Level Two in March!

-Jillian McCarthy