What I wish I knew back when I was a new improviser (that I know now)

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

A real live New Jersey guy said this to me on a turnpike...


Improv made me feel like a hero on day one. I didn't have time to pay attention to things I wasn't doing wonderfully because I was having too much fun laughing, learning and playing. My inner child was in a coma and I was smacking her back to life with a rubber chicken. As a new improviser, the instant gratification of getting the small things right encouraged me onward. I was happily oblivious to the mountain of lessons that improv would deliver.


I tried getting up a climbing wall once... ONCE. I was anxious, in my head, absolutely sure I was doing everything wrong. Improv's inherent love for mistake-making shielded me from how rough I was around the edges. The yes-anding from fellow players made me feel I knew exactly what I was doing. It's like learning to walk, ride a bike, kiss: you gotta do it kinda bad before you do it kinda good. BUT...you don't perceive yourself as 'doing bad' because you are so engrossed in the learning, the experimenting and the rewards.


I hadn't realized my constant smiling/laughing in scenes was not great until, 'Ohhhhh, I didn't hear a word my scene partner just said because I'm soooo scared and nervous and in my head and trying to hide by laughing it all off.' After getting it 'wrong' enough times, I started to understand my fears weren't helping me listen, accept and support. I began to trust more and really be present for myself and my scene partners. As I started to laugh less on stage, the audience laughed more.


If someone told me, 'You don't only have to play the girlfriend, the love interest, the coquette, there are many options', I would've understood what the words meant but I still had a mountain of programming inside my brain shaping the default characters I would play and, at the start, they ended up being sexualized characters. Thankfully, my boredom began to trump my programming and, because improv promotes trying new things, I embarked on a path of discovering engaging characters that I loved playing. My stripper and my head of state have been friends ever since.


To experience 'getting it', there needs to be a time when it was not gotten. Lessons tend to arrive right on time, like my period in the '90s. I learn best when I experience the teaching rather than thinking it through. I like feeling aha moments in my body, it helps me remember them in the future.


I get tired of things pretty quickly and I have trust and commitment issues. I can't believe improv has satisfied me for 13 years. Not just satisfied but nourished and sustained me. 'I coulda played this role, I shoulda said that thing'... BOLLOCKS. I love how improv continues to drip-feed me new learnings. I'm a fan of not knowing.

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