Are you the type of person who likes to know what’s coming next? I mean what’s coming in the next hour, day, week, meeting, or big event? I am! I have forever been a person who likes to plan. I am a trained actress, and can get up in front of people with a script with virtually no problems, but a few years ago if you asked me to get up and do an impromptu speech or improvised scene, my heart would race, my palms grow sweaty, and my stomach curl. Seriously, in my head I would often think, “I’m going to die because I don’t know what I am going to say! I’m going to mess this up and look like a fool!” If you asked me to write a speech or think before hand what I had to say, for even five minutes, I would have been fine. However, ask me to do something on the spot, and I virtually felt my blood pressure escalate!
I never liked the fact that I was terrified of improvisation, and the fact that I always had to know what I was going to say in real life situations and acting scenes. After all, I saw how so many good actors and leaders were so comfortable and spontaneous in improvisation. I really wanted to get over this. So, I started making myself participate in activities that involved improvisation. One of them was Toastmasters. This is a speech makers club. In every meeting people deliver pre-written speeches, and one part of every meeting involves having to give an impromptu speech after receiving a short prompt. The first few times I had to do it, I was literally nauseous. However, after making myself get up and do this more and more, that nauseous feeling starting becoming less and less. It was really quite miraculous. These small successes helped me to believe that not being good improvisation all those years had more to do with a fearful mindset, than a lack of improvisation skill.
Another way I confronted my fear was by doing improvisation with my Drama students. I have been teaching Drama now full-time for over five years. I had to first learn a million different improvisation activities to use in my classes, and I started throwing myself into them along with my students. I guess I just felt like it was a safe place to learn how to be a better improv artist – around 11 – 14 year olds with no adults around. I could just throw myself into crazy scenes with them, and have fun without trying to feel like I was a “master” at improvisation. There are “rules” for improvisational acting, and in my classes, I could practice following these rules right along with students. I started coming up with these crazy characters and scene ideas all the time! It has become quite addicting. We do only improvisation activities always on Fridays, and my students look forward to this thrilling way to end their week in Drama class.
Developing my improvisation skills with my students was such a breakthrough for me – a break-through fear! I used to be blocked all the time in my formal theatre education classes. Seriously, I was terrible at improvisation because I judged myself, over-thought everything, and just expected myself to do do a lousy job every time. However, now I was not so self-conscious of my improvisation skill, but I allowed myself to trust my instincts and be creative moment by moment! I was finally just taking my thoughts and ideas for characters and scenes, and running with them, without out over-thinking them. This is one of the rules of improvisation – commit to your choices! So, I was learning how to commit to my choices!
About a year ago, I was still itching to take this newfound improvisation ability to a new level, so I took a formal acting improvisation class. A big step for me. Something I would have NEVER done a few years ago, because of the sheer terror of looking like a fool! This time I was determined that I would learn how to do this with adults. I have to admit that first class was so nerve-wracking. We had to do long improvisation scenes, which I wasn’t used to doing at all. We had to do improvisation games that required ridiculous spontaneity, the likes of which used to scare me silly! Low and behold, I threw myself into these scenes and games. I was not always tremendously successfully because I am inexperienced at more complicated improvisational acting, however, by the final class, I had come a long way. I mean, try doing a 3 minute scene with only one word as your starting point?! It is quite a fun ride! All you can do is listen and respond, say “yes, and…..” and just go with the flow!
This improvisation class changed my life. Why? I began to understand more what it meant to just live in the moment, a concept that seems very profound, but yet is hard to do for perfectionist-type personalities. I learned how I didn’t always have to think ahead. There were so many times when I had no idea what I would say or do in a scene, even when I supposed to be the one starting a scene from a frozen position! All I knew was – the idea would come to me once I boldly put myself in the position. All I needed to do was step out with confidence that all the creativity I needed was in my head to get the scene started! So many times I surprised myself and my classmates. So many times!
My creative challenge to you is to make yourself get involved in activities that involve improvisation, especially if you are an introvert or perfectionist-type personality who is terrified by impromptu activities. Here are a few activities:
- Swing Dancing (Yes, after you know the basic steps, you make it up as you go!)
- Toastmasters Club
- Leading a small group at church, work, school. (Bible study, interest group, book club, etc.)
- Jazz Music Club
- Improvisation Acting Class
- Teaching (whatever subject you know a lot about)
- If you are just a worship leader and all you do is sing, start making yourself speak here and there in between songs.
- Karaoke (This is singing in the moment!)
- Cranium, charades, or board games that involve having to get up and act out things on the spot and get your team to guess.
It may be that some of us will never be “brilliant” at activities that involve a lot of impromptu, but I truly believe that even most planned, perfectionist-type, analytical, left-brained personalities can still become better at living in the moment. We can conquer the fear of having to always know what’s coming next, and it can help us become more confident in every area of our lives! I have been there, done it, and I am learning to live in the moment more every day of my life!