When you’re performing life, scenes become more natural.

Reflections from an Improv Newbie, Week 6

Class felt a bit lower-energy than usual this week. From my perspective, there were a few people in the class who did a really great job, but the rest of us simply weren’t as energetic as we usually are when we get onstage. Maybe I’m just projecting my own experience onto other people, but I would imagine that my lower energy affected at least the people with whom I did scenes.

I felt a bit frustrated with myself because I found it harder to commit to scenes than I usually do, and as a result, I didn’t have as much fun as I typically have in class. For the first time, I experienced moments onstage when I thought to myself, “I don’t care about where this scene goes, I just want it to be over.” I’m not sure where this feeling came from, because my classmates were trying just as hard as they usually do, but I for some reason was not as enthusiastic as usual. Maybe some of it was that I still am inconsistent in that some days I have a lot of good ideas, but other days I struggle to think of anything interesting to say. I suspect that some of my problems in class originated in frustration that I’m not progressing as quickly as I would like to. Karen, our TA, told us at dinner later to give ourselves a break because in taking this class, we are rewiring the way our brains work, and it takes time to do that.

On Monday night I went to Totally Free Mondays and saw a few of the house teams perform. I was struck by how natural their performances were. I kept forgetting that no one onstage had any idea what would happen later in the scene, how it would resolve, or that the characters I was seeing had just been created, some purely as a response to an idea that their partner offered. In performances by some of the house teams that have just been formed, there wasn’t the same ease of interaction, probably because the improvisers haven’t worked with each other for very long yet. The more experienced the group, the more natural the scenes looked. When talking to people like Karen or other experienced improvisers, they say that when they go onstage, they’re not nervous because they’re just being themselves and performing life. It seems to me that you have to get past the point of rewiring your brain and worrying about being onstage and reach the point of comfort that you live your life with, and that’s when great improvisation happens. When you’re performing life, scenes become more natural.

A quick Thanksgiving anecdote: Over Thanksgiving, we had thirteen friends and family members at my house for dinner, some of whom I see every year, and others who were relatively new faces. I have to say, people laughed at my jokes and stories a lot more than they used to. Maybe this was simply the result of the fact that thanks to some unexpected change in my humor, people now find me funnier than they used to. More probably, it was the result of being around hilarious people and interacting with them in improv classes for three hours every week.

Jillian McCarthy

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