The (ir)regular reader will have gathered that I’m on a bit of a “skills” kick at the moment, and would also have noticed (because you’re smart, handsome, and really switched on) that they’re not necessarily related. Yes! I’m working on gathering a bunch of (often) unrelated skills to form the most eclectic set of “other interests”.
Being smart and handsome, you’ll no doubt recall the knitting, yoga, climbing, sewing, silversmithing and costume-making to date (I want to invest a bit more time in the climbing, but that’s for a later date). For the next one, I decided to wander off in a slightly different direction, and for the past few weeks I’ve been taking a new class… Hoopla’s Improv Comedy for Beginners Course.
Now, I can tell what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking “But Bryn, you’re terrible at jokes and stuff”. Firstly, shame on you! Being so rude after I’d called you smart and handsome and everything… Secondly, it’s not necessarily that important for it to be funny.
I sometimes struggle in rooms full of people. Some I’m okay with, others I find I’m sticking to the walls and searching for excuses to leave. I don’t know if it’s related to the difficulty I have at times hearing everything that’s going on, or if it’s a confidence issue tied up with poor self-esteem/image and fear of ending up looking like a prat (side note: therapists really are a marvel). Either way, it’s bugging me, and there must be a way to work on some of those issues…
This brings us to back the Improv…
To be clear… we’re talking here about having two or more performers on stage building a scene from an opening line live with no prep time or rehearsal. Sometimes you’ll be funny, sometimes you won’t. You start with one line, then your fellow performers “Yes, and” (they accept what you’ve said, and build on it).
You have to put your trust into the person you’re performing the scene with, and you must accept what they say and build on it (and visa versa). If it involves falling to the floor or pretending to be a tree, you do that. You can’t worry about looking like a prat, because you’ve got a world to build with words and your body. You have to join in and maybe be one of a pair of trees arguing about philosophy, or you need to pretend to be a stuffed bear to help set the scene for your fellow performers (I watched one group go on from that to have the bear come to life and maul one of the other performers). If you start worrying about what you look like, you’ll miss an offer and end up leaving your performance mates hanging.
The good part is that it forces you out from your own head. You’re too busy listening to what everyone else is saying, remembering what you’ve said before and trying to think what you’re going to say next. In the classroom, everyone is in the same position. It’s amazing fun. You’re relying on the person you’re with to do some of the heavy lifting, there’s support there and it doesn’t feel so bad if things go wrong. Some of the reading I’ve done suggests that in most cases, what you improvise will fall flat on its face, with even the pros being happy with a quarter of the gags landing. Failure is expected, which makes succeeding even nicer. If something doesn’t work, bring it to a close and move onto the next one.
I’m half-way through the course now, and if I come away being able to apply that type of mindfulness into my life, then it’s all worthwhile. Do I want to get on stage and try some actual improv out? I really think I do… if nothing else, it’ll make a conversation-worthy addition to my collection of odd skills.