You can learn a lot watching yourself perform on a stage. From cadence to word choice and body language to wardrobe, it’s fascinating to see how others see me.
At the end of July, I performed with Torch Theatre regular (part owner) Mack Duncan and retired improv-er Heidi Watson as part of the Cerebus Cup, which takes place every month with five weekends, between 2-3 person troupes. Some of us are experienced, some not. Some of us practiced–we did for an hour–and some have had classes. Some of us were also scared to death to go onstage even though there were 33 people in the audience and no live stream.
That last guy was me. While I’m usually comfortable in front of a crowd and leave little behind my internal filter, the experience of walking on stage with two other people who I didn’t know all that well and making stories up was exciting at first. I’m a master bullshitter, right? I have no problem saying just about anything.
Boy, was I wrong. Improv–really good improv–is very, very hard. It’s nothing like a stage play, nothing like a speech and certainly nothing like spouting off online. What it is very much like is pickup sports (my favorite is basketball) where a group of people who agree on basic principles get together to play an unscripted game. Sure, there are fundamentals that must be incorporated, but no one goes into a pickup game with set plays or any real practice.
You take what you get and go from there.
Just like improv.
Improv, just like a pickup basketball game, can teach you a helluva lot about your life, provided you’re able to survive the experience. I learned:
- I’m chubbier than I thought. Damn.
- Sweat is super noticeable.
- I say well a lot.
- I need to enunciate better and speak louder.
- I need to trust my body.
- I must sell my colleagues AND the audience on jokes.
- Process is almost always more important than outcome.
- People generally want others to succeed.
- Staying in the moment feels awesome.
- There’s no time to reflect when you’re really living.
Life moves pretty fast. If we never take the time to live in the moment, we’ll miss it. Improv may have not made me a better person, performer, writer, lover or friend, but it sure as hell made me realize that fear is a necessary part of growth and that if we go through life avoiding risk, we’ll never be happy.
(I’m friends with the founders of Torch Theatre and a financial supporter.)