Today’s blog is about an experiment I am doing in which I hypothesize that life may be better when improvised than when I attempt to control the outcome of all things.
I can’t be the only one for whom this feels like stepping out on a ledge at times, right? So this is a little dish on the details of my progress so far, just in case you’d like someone to stick a toe in the water first and tell you how it feels.
First of all, though I’m sure most people have seen “Who’s Line is it Anyway?”, not everyone may be well versed in what improvisation actually is.
Answers.com gives this definition for the word ‘improvise’:
- To invent, compose, or perform with little or no preparation.
- To play or sing (music) extemporaneously, especially by inventing variations on a melody or creating new melodies in accordance with a set progression of chords.
- To make or provide from available materials: improvised a dinner from what I found in the refrigerator.
For actors, improvisation is this crazy thing we do where we get on stage (or in front of a camera) with no script and no clue what we’re going to do or say and we just see what happens. Sounds crazy, I know.
This is how improv works: You have a scene partner(s) and you might get a word, a location, a relationship, something (or nothing) from the audience. You start doing something physical and figure it out from there. Hopefully great laughter and adulation follows in rapid succession as the crowd watches you spin nothing into comedy gold. In life we also call this ‘thinking on your feet’.
There are 2 basic rules of improvisation:
1. Don’t deny. This rule is also known as the ‘yes, and…’ rule. If your fellow stage dweller says its raining then it is raining. If you say, “Actually, it’s quite sunny” you’ve effectively ended the scene because it can’t progress when you can’t create a world for your audience to follow you into. So you have to run with whatever you are given.
2. Don’t ask questions. When your scene-mate says, “We sure are working hard.” and you ask, “What are we doing again?” you’ve done 2 things: 1) put all the pressure to create the reality of the scene on your partner and 2) taken the audience out of the scene by pointing out that you don’t know where you are or what you’re doing. Instead you take what you’re given and build on it. This is where you get to have your creative input. You might reply like this: “I know! I never thought harvesting babies for the storks would be so labor intensive.” The audience laughs, you feel validated as a human being and you go about your business.
This is how I’m applying these guidelines to life:
1. I stop and listen and wait to see what I’ll be given to work with. I’ve been really surprised quite a few times since I started that. Sometimes when you just sit and wait people keep talking. Sales people may offer you things they wouldn’t otherwise, just to fill the silence. People will reveal things to you they hadn’t planned to. And you can learn things you would have missed if you weren’t paying attention.
2. I go with what I’m given. Sometimes I have a very clear idea of how I’d like a situation to play out, down to the finest detail and I try to guide events to fit my vision. But since I’ve decided to let things happen naturally I’ve found that sometimes the best way to get what you want is to let go and let nature and the people around you lead the way.
That’s it. 2 simple changes and I’ve learned a lot about how being in control (having a script) of my life is the least productive choice. Improvising is full of rewards and I love it.
This is not the same as letting life happen to me. I am an active performer but rather than trying to write the script as I go I am being an open and available partner and letting the opportunity for great outcomes I never could have foreseen happen. Who knew?
Here is something I completely improvised (that’s right, I made it up on the spot) for a webseries that will air one of these days. I play Faith Curkle, a single life coach looking for love: