OnStage Canada Columnist
Warning: Serious self-reflection ahead. Read at your own risk.
Ever since Junior High, I have had this dread of the word “improvisation”. I love watching it, I find it very entertaining and I have great respect for those in our community who are especially adept at it. I think it is so incredibly terrifying and challenging to get up on stage without direction or a script.
I’m not good at it. Simple as that; a combination of Attention Deficit Disorder and crippling fear keep me from thinking on my feet and taking huge risks. It is a weakness that has seriously hurt me as a performer. I once got a callback for a show that involved playing improv games to gauge how quickly all the actors could think on their feet and interact with each other. I just didn’t do it. I sat in the back the entire time and watched, scared sh*tless.
I fear improv. And I hate the things I fear because they can’t be controlled. As an actor, I think the worst thing I have ever done for myself is refuse to relinquish control. I hate to take risks and I have nightmares about having the wrong answer. When I'm rehearsing or performing I don't like the idea of being wrong and it scares me so much that I don't try anything new.
It is a horrible approach to anything in life and I know how bad it is so this weekend, I took an improv workshop – my very first. I learned the basics of some very valuable skills but I still have this huge fear of improvising. The whole time I was there I was watching the clock, waiting for it to be over and dreading having to go up there and…perform in a safe space. I did an exercise where I literally sat in a chair and stared passed the audience and my heart was beating out of my chest.
One thing I do have to remind myself is that improv is very supportive. No one wants you to fail, your partner is there to listen, respond, and support you. And it's like that in all theatre. People want you to succeed or at least enjoy yourself. I was amongst actors of varying skill levels who were only there to learn and grow. But a lot of that afternoon involved taking risks and just responding, not with what's right or funny, but the first thing that comes to mind; and that terrified me. The instructor was very open and constructive and offered a lot of very good advice. Reflecting on the structure of the workshop, there was a plethora of information for me to take away but I wasn’t open to it. I held back a lot and I left feeling disappointed.
I did learn a lot of beneficial advice about character work (high and low status, levels, and varying emotional responses, all that good stuff) and objectively I did learn a lot but I wish I had done more. I realized that I am so afraid of taking real risks that I deprive myself of some amazing opportunities. Though, I am learning very slowly which does bring me hope.
There will be other opportunities.
Though my love of improv has not really changed – I’m still petrified – I did take away a lot of positive things from this workshop more than I necessarily blossomed as an actor.
I believe – as all performers should – that every opportunity is a learning experience, and the best I can do is find something positive in discovering my flaws by forcing myself into an uncomfortable situation. Self-awareness is so important in this line of work, I can’t afford to be closed off.