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Beginner’s Mind and Advancing in Improv

I’ve been trying to read the UCB Comedy Manual, and fairly successfully reading Will Hines’s improvnonsense Best Of, but I keep getting distracted by my own thoughts so I thought it would be smart to write them down.

By far, my favorite improvnonsense post is the “How do I get out of my head?” post, which should surprise no one.

I’ve had a whirlwind of a time in my brief time at DSI Comedy Theater. I started taking sketch in January 2014, and found my way (nudged by the delightful Paula Pazderka) into improv in May 2014. I took 101, 201, repeated 201, and took 301 basically back-to-back. In February 2015, I auditioned for the company and was placed in the short-form ensemble. This puts me on stage with improvisers vastly more experienced than me. 

In April 2015, I started 401.

So, given all that preamble, some thoughts.

In 101 and 201 (and even, to some extent, 301), I was a bold and confident improviser. My theater background and my delight at showing up carried me a long way. I was immensely flattered to receive comments from classmates like, “I always feel safe when I’m in a scene with you.” Being confident didn’t keep me from being eager to learn; I happily received notes and did my best to internalize them. (I did notice as early as 101 that I’m a lot smarter in class than on stage. I blame the adrenaline boost that bright lights and an audience inspire.) I happily initiated scenes when my scene partners seemed reticent. I fully committed. I mirrored the heck out of scene partners.

Before being cast in the short form ensemble, I had been away from improv entirely for over 12 weeks, due to another theatre commitment. I was shocked to be cast. But I had a blast at practices. Again, I was just so happy to even show up.

But something happened. I’m not sure when or how, but being up on stage with amazing, experienced improvisers – people I’d admired from the audience for months – turned me into the reticent scene partner, lacking confidence in my choices, assuming that everyone at practices was watching my scenes and thinking about all the things I’d done wrong (narcissism is a problem, y’all). I got less bold. I found myself questioning the director’s and coaches’ decision to let me in this ensemble. (I KNOW THIS IS SILLY. They wouldn’t put me on if they didn’t want me there.)

I felt myself making choices and then backing off from them. By late June or early July 2015, I was thinking that, despite the fact that I have the most fun at improv practice, more fun than almost anything else I do, maybe I was wrong to keep going with it.

THE STORY GETS HAPPIER FROM HERE.

I had some weird stuff going on professionally in early July that was maybe affecting how I felt about improv, I’m not sure. But I read that improvnonsense post, especially the email from Zach Woods, and something started to shift in me. I felt like okay, maybe I was right to want to keep doing this, even though I was feeling down and like I wasn’t doing a great job. Maybe I just had to move through it.

On July 11, I played in DSI’s Family Improv show with Kit FitzSimons and Vinny Valdivia, two incredibly gifted, experienced, and generous improvisers. If you ever want to feel safe on stage, get up there with Vinny and Kit. 

In addition to that, the entire audience consisted of my sister, my brother, and my mother-in-law. For that one day, we re-named the Family Improv show “Kimberly’s Family Improv.” That was immensely liberating, because I knew everyone there was going to love and support me and be delighted by basically anything I did.

And on top of being on stage with two great players and having an audience 100% composed of people guaranteed to love me, I had decided that my goal for this show was to GO FOR IT. Whatever choice I made, whatever I did, I was going to commit to it like little Improv 101 Kimberly would. (Figuratively little. I mean, I’m short, but I’ve actually lost weight since Improv 101.)

It was the right call. That show was a ton of fun and I left feeling good. My next show I was a kind of weird and slow scene partner, but that was because it was a show I had proposed and it was just the most magical and craziest thing for it to actually be happening, so I couldn’t really believe the glory of it. (I left that show feeling amazing, too. Just more because of everyone else in the show than because of anything I did.)

And then, because life is how it is, I went on a 3 ½ week hiatus with no practices or shows due to life stuff. But I’m going to get back into it within the next week, and I think I’ll stick with that GO FOR IT mantra.

All of this to say:

I need to remember 101-201-301 Kimberly. I need to trust that if I make a move that isn’t the move it should have been, I will only benefit by having more experienced improvisers on stage with me. They’ll shore me up. I need to remember that this is the most fun and that if I’m making the most fun choices, especially in short form, I’m probably doing it right. And that if I’m doing it wrong, that’s okay, because I’m going to keep doing it and I’m going to get better.