It’s often been said: Improv is simple to understand, hard to master. However, that’s only because we tend to complicate things. The improv goes badly and we beat ourselves up about it. The improv goes well and we don’t believe it can be that easy so we add layers of difficulty the next time we step out there.
And that’s the most important thing about our improv: the next time we step out there. As my friend, Mark Sutton, an awesome teacher out of The Annoyance Theater in Chicago has told me “Good shows and bad shows have one thing in common, they’re not going to happen again.”
Improv is a tightrope. As you go further into its practice, it’s not about getting better at walking it as much as that you stop looking down. At a certain point, you flip a Fuck It Switch.
I remember a show from when I was 9 years into my improv career. I had racked up a lot of hours in rehearsals, classes and on stage. I thought myself to have a pretty solid track record. I was in a show I loved with some amazing people (some of which who are now TV famous) and I froze.
Everything was aligned for success and I looked at all these gifts and used it as a reason to hang back instead of play. I remember so vividly sitting on the bench (literally) and watching.
Even after nine years, I hadn’t fully flipped my Fuck It Switch. Because that flip is a process. Here’s how it works:
- You step away from that last show and analyze it to death: what was fun, (more often) what could have been better and what choices could have been made that weren’t.
- You step away from that last show, regardless of how it went, and use that to reframe the next time you get out there: what challenge are you going to give yourself, what are you going to bring to the table when you’re out there.
- That show-to-show recalibration is something you start doing scene-to-scene. “Hey, that last scene was a little low-energy. Next time out there, it’s going to be with a lot more commitment.”
- You recalibrate again, this time playing moment-to-moment, making adjustments in the middle of scenes.
- You stop thinking about it altogether and just play.
The most important characteristic that any improviser has is their initiative. Think about it, unless you jump out there, it doesn’t matter what else you have in your toolbox. Initiative is based on the level of permission you give yourself (which is inversely proportionate to the level of worry you bring in.)
Give yourself permission to play in whatever way that means to you. Flip that switch.
Written by Asaf Ronen.