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I have a very obsessive mindset when it comes to the things I love, including improvised comedy. I'd like to share some recent lessons I've learnt regarding being overcommitted as an improviser, and the importance of taking time off for your health.
Over the past couple of months I have delved headfirst into training and performing with The Improv Conspiracy, trying to do and see as much improv as I can. This is not because I have to, but rather because I want to. Trying to improve and do as many shows as you can is what will make you a better improviser, but this can also be dangerous when you overcommit.
In the past four weeks I have come to the realisation that my whole life has started to revolve around The Improv Conspiracy and acting school. I haven’t done something social like seeing a movie or hanging out with friends for a very long time. I have not been sleeping well or eating properly. I have just been plain exhausted and a little blue all the time trying to commit to as many things as possible. Doing this has affected my performances on stage too: I realised that I wasn’t listening very properly in some improv shows, and I struggled with heightening in my scenes, which then made me want to do even more improv so that I could overcome my issues, which then made me more tired… it’s a never-ending cycle!
This is unhealthy! And after a group chat with my amazing Harold team Airblade and our coach Andrew Strano, I came to realise that I needed to cut back a little and relax. Health absolutely comes first and I had been careless with mine. A good friend and teammate sent me a quote from famous improviser Ben Schwartz who was once in a situation similar to mine:
“When I started doing comedy in New York, I was a page at Letterman and an intern at UCB, where I'd also watch the shows and take classes. It was my life. But my comedy sucked. Then my improv teacher said, 'Go live life. Go fucking do something. Go to the zoo, go on a date, do anything.' I needed to hear that."
This doesn’t fully address the health issue of overcommitting, but it does demonstrate my other point: there is merit in easing off a little. Life experience is what will help with your improv, not just training and performing improv 24/7. Experiencing the world and even other pieces of art such as visual art or music, or doing something random with your day will inspire you and therefore widen your colour palette to draw from when you come back to improv. Now that I think about it, it’s a no brainer, right?
After taking some time where I cut back and only did the bare minimum amount of improv that was required of my team obligations, I came back the following week feeling absolutely fresh and Airblade did a kickass show which I was proud of! It’s important to work hard and be passionate about this craft, which is a given for anything you love. However, being obsessive like me is not the best way to approach it. I have no doubt that I will do the same thing again in time because that’s how I am, but now I know how to cope.
I’m sure there are many improvisers out there who are in the same pickle, but I now have the understanding that it’s okay to say no sometimes! It doesn’t mean you don’t love what you do, trust me, I love improv wholeheartedly, but it's important to have balance in your life. The next time I have a choice between a going on a date and seeing a show that I am not required to perform in, maybe I will think about saying yes to the date!
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