Life lessons from improv

It’s hard enough to be funny, never mind being funny quickly.

My costume is pretty close to my wardrobe (with shoulder pads thrown in).

My costume is pretty close to my wardrobe (with shoulder pads thrown in).

The show that is wrapping up this weekend involves some improv in the first act, an exercise which I can safely say I was never asked to do back when I was only doing opera and not musical theater.

For those of you not familiar with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, it involves audience volunteers. Each time a volunteer takes a turn, my character, the host, offers a fact about them as color commentary.

I have a few stock jokes (involving things like Alphabits, Alphabet soup, etc) but I try to base most of them on the person who volunteered – something about their appearance or a fun fact they wrote on their volunteer form. I have about 5 minutes backstage to come up with a few, and then have to invent the rest on the fly during the first act.

Not surprisingly, a few of the things I have said have completely fallen flat. Either the joke goes on too long, my delivery isn’t quite right, or it is just a lame idea. Still, every time my co-host calls someone up, I have to say something.

That’s where the lesson is for me. I just have to try. Sometimes I embarrass myself, and sometimes I have the audience rolling in the aisles. But I just keep trying.

For a long time I was so scared to fail in front of anyone. I still am shamefaced if I make a mistake publicly, and for all my talk of self-acceptance and not caring what people think, I cling tightly to the image of someone who doesn’t make mistakes.

Each time I try out a joke that doesn’t work, I’m getting closer to hitting the mark. Each time the audience groans at a silly pun, I’m getting feedback that helps me figure out how to amuse them the next time. Each mistake brings me a tiny bit closer to getting it right.

So I take a deep breath and tell myself it’s OK to try. It’s OK to fail. It’s OK to learn. 

In what ways are you learning to be OK with your mistakes?

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7 Responses to Life lessons from improv

  1. Geralyn says:

    I admire your efforts for trying – I don’t think “failing” and
    your trying go together.

    But in response to your question, I have one of these in blue: 🙂 😛

  2. Mo says:

    my parents still tease me about being the little girl, practising jumping rope in the basement where no one can see me. And until I could do it perfectly, I never let anyone see me trying. Sometimes I still feel like this, but you are so very right, it is ok to try, its ok to fail, and its ok to learn.

  3. Elise says:

    To this day, I don’t like having my parents or other relatives come to my shows (even though they still manage to attend) because I don’t like the risk of making a mistake in front of them — not saying a line correctly, missing a line altogether, singing weirdly, or botching choreography. I often wonder… my performance is good enough for me, but is it good enough for them?

  4. Val says:

    Being accident prone with a type of dyslexia that only slips when I’m tired? Real life is sudden random acts of improv, and a quick wit covers a multitude of sins. It’s the moments when I give a technically correct answer no one gets, ask a question which is the right question that shows I’m the only one who understands what is going on, teachers who call on me to bail themselves out…repeatedly, or when someone misunderstands something I’ve said that I want (and will pretty much always want to melt through the floor. Being smart can be a very quick path to many dark things if people decide they need to take you out. The mistake in that is not toeing a very fine line. Sometimes even not making mistakes — or not making enough mistakes — can bring the same problems.

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