Recently, I’ve been getting feedback that I look really comfortable on stage. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I think it shows that my dedication and practice to improving my improv skills is working. I can play a character, listen, make up stories and do object work (mime) while on stage. I want to be comfortable performing. However, when I received this feedback I was actually really scared and not satisfied with my performance at all. I didn’t enjoy myself. So what am I doing when I’m enjoying myself and feeling at ease on stage and off? I’ve been wondering about this for a couple months.
I started improvising at a drop in class that I only attended once or twice a month. My first big “a-ha!” moment came when I realized I could simply play with whatever I was experiencing in my body. I didn’t have to make something up. If my belly felt tight, I could clutch at it and bend over. If my hand was shaking a little, I could shake it more. If my head felt light, I could lay down. I realized that my choice to say yes to my experience and then add to it by making it bigger was an offer and a gift to my scene partner. It was also a gift to myself. My experience would immediately begin to shift once I revealed and began to play with it. Then I would feel at ease.
So when I’m feeling ease, I’m revealing some genuine part of my inner experience, I’m allowing my impulses and I’m playing with what’s here now. If go through a whole scene not doing those things, my fear persists and it’s generally slow and clunky. I might be listening to my partner’s words, responding with a logical story, staying true to my character and the scene might be good. But it won’t be great. In great scenes the improvisers are playing and truly enjoying themselves. The audience can tell when an improviser is having a really good time. It’s contagious.
Somewhere along the way I let my skill override my in-the-moment experience. More specifically, I let my head-centric skills take over. I’ll never have enough skill to outshine the power of being with my experience. That’s why I do improv. That’s what it’s all about and I think this applies to any occupation, hobby or relationship – AKA, life. As I learn to tell better stories and create more compelling characters, I want to always keep my experience, including my experience of my partner and the space, as the primary fuel for my creativity. My skills are there to support and embellish my experience.
Feeling at ease on stage will come with allowing myself to be seen. When I allow what’s on the inside to be witnessed, I relax. Even if it’s just a little bit to begin with – the shaking of my hand, the crinkling of my brow or the bounce of my step. I consciously choose to show the audience what I’m experiencing. The thing is, they can already tell I’m scared or excited or angry, but when I choose to ‘yes, and’ my experience and incorporate it into what I’m doing – everyone, not just me, gets to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s the magic move of improv and comedy. The audience knows that you know what they know. It creates a resonance and in that space the next thing can emerge.