Thursday, July 25, 2013

Try Anything

If I ever met me from five years ago I’d probably punch past me right in the mouth. Yep right in the face hole. Why? ‘Cause I was a big old jerk. I was loud and inconsiderate and just largely went around being a jerk. But I know that now and I’m (hopefully) less of a jerk because of it.

Yep, one day I went and got me some personal growth. And you know what? It was good! It meant that I could slowly become less jerky and even start to like the kind of person I was becoming. So in five more years I hope that I look at present me and think that he was kind of a jerk too, so the cycle of jerk - growth - jerk - growth can just continue into whatever the future may hold.

In many ways improv is a lot like life; it just runs on a much faster calendar. How do I know this? ‘Cause six months ago I was a big old face-hole-punch-worthy jerk. And here’s how I know… 

Over the last couple of months I’ve been trying to improve my improv. Every fortnight I watch my Conspiracy comrades nail scene after scene (because they’re fucking amazing!) and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t getting left behind. So I started reading more improv blogs and listening to more podcasts and eventually I stumbled across Mick Napier’s post titled ‘How to be the perfect actor in a show’.

So, Mick reckons being the perfect actor is really easy to do; you just have to follow ten simple rules and you’ll be killing it in no time! You can follow the link to read all the rules and if you do, know that I’ve broken all the rules at one point or another and I continue to break some on occasion despite my best intentions. But for now I just want to focus on rule number eight in his list, as this is the one that made me realise that I was a big old jerk.

8. Try anything -  Be someone who will try anything. Be someone who says, "Sure, I'll try it." 

Or in other words just “say yes”. Take the first simple idea in the scene and just run with it. It seems so simple, but sometimes this is really hard to do. After all a lot of us get nervous (particularly if we haven’t been improvising long) and when we get nervous bad habits come into play. In the first few months my nervous habits consisted of a combination of gagging (going for a laugh not just audibly bringing up my dinner mid-scene) or simply filling the silence with more words and information; particularly if I didn’t think the idea was good enough (it was) or if the show was going a bit rough (sometimes it was, sometimes I was just going rough). I’d block an idea by judging it or talking over it and whilst the scenes would often work well, they would never set the crowd on fire. And that was solely on me. 

At the time the problem stemmed from a lack of confidence feigning as me having a higher standard of ideas. But in reality as a grown man who’d pretended to be a spider’s optometrist, who’d narrated the sexual behaviour of plants and who’d served beers to a woman scorned by a duck, who was I to turn my nose up at pretending to be… well anything... The answer? I was a jerk! 

Here’s the thing; improv is easy, but great improv is hard. Great players make it look easy because they’ve learnt to ignore those instincts to back away from the uncertain, to ignore those desires to steal focus and gag or those thoughts that you’ll look stupid or that you’ll offend someone. One day I want to be doing great scenes all the time, but for the moment I’m just happy to keep focussing on nailing down the basics. It’s taking practice, but every time I just “try anything” the scene is so much easier; and more importantly it’s so much more fun! 

But ultimately it’s your teammates are the ultimate reason for always saying “Sure, I'll try it” and here’s why: your teammates are all geniuses! They’re geniuses who couldn’t come up with a shit idea between them if their lives depended on it! They're just that good! Seriously! 

So not being willing to give an idea a try is a great way to say “Hey, look over here, I’m the asshole!”... and believe me, some nights I yelled that loud and clear! 

Improv is not about judging, it’s about being judgment-free! It’s about saying yes and having fun. It's about being a 29 year-old grown ass man on stage with a bunch of your best mates pretending to be an amorphous plant eating its young in a room full of inebriated strangers. Because you know what sometimes just saying “I’ll try it” is the best thing you could ever do.

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