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Improv will not fix you…

…because you’re not broken. YOU ARE WHOLE AND YOU ARE ENOUGH.

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I’ve been having a challenging few weeks. I suffer from clinical depression and social anxiety, and they’re usually in remission, but in times of transition (like, say, leaving a job and starting a doctoral program) they sneak their way back into my life and right around October or November they get their big reveal. So I’ve been feeling weepy and weird, guilty and self-judging. I spent most of the day yesterday working on a statistics midterm, and I had a good cry, and I had a bit more of a cry in the car on the way to improv class mostly just remembering the cry I’d had earlier. I had really been looking forward to class, thinking, “This is going to save my day. I have had a hard, lonely day, and this will fix it, and me.” (You know where this is going, don’t you?)

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I got to the theater. I talked to some friends. They also were having rough days. We hugged. I went downstairs. I decided to engage in some generous mischief, the results of which I believe have not come to fruition. I let another friend know about the generous mischief, and she played at (?) being jealous because she herself wasn’t the target of such mischief. I did my best to make it up to her. I had emotionally papier-mached these layers of fun and play over my extremely raw heart.

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Class started. We did warm-ups. They were fun. But I was feeling twitchy. And then we got to the meat of class, which involved doing AN EXERCISE.

The thing about exercises is that they are meant to give you specific skills. To achieve this end, they are rigidly structured and intensely focused, and the scenes that come out of them do not and are not designed to resemble what you would want to see on stage, necessarily. So all of the things I’ve been thinking about lately, which are techniques for building strong scenes, actually got in my way here.

Add to that, I got psyched out by the suggestion. The suggestion was “opera singer,” and I was keenly aware of myself as a singer and of the three people in the room who know I’m a singer, of their knowing I’m a singer and making the connection with the suggestion. I got thoroughly stuck in my head, working so hard to THINK through the ramifications of the suggestion with respect to this particular exercise and my own knowledge of opera singers.

My scene partner and I did two scenes. I’m not going to go into detail, but both scenes felt like a struggle. I felt so strongly that I had hung my partner out to dry because of being so up in my head. I felt that, not only had I struggled with the whole point of the exercise, but I had failed to do the two things I think are the foundation of the best scenes: trust and love my partner, even if I didn’t know him that well. 

We got notes. It was hard.

I spent other people’s scenes running through all the things I could have done, what I should have done, and more generally beating myself up over those two scenes. I probably would have learned a lot more by paying attention to other people’s scenes. 

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We got up in larger groups to do the exercise again. I ended up with the same scene partner. I told myself this time I was going to go out. I was going to have a strong, positive initiation. I was going to fix the night. (You still know where this is going, don’t you?)

I succeeded at coming out with a strong, positive initiation and maintaining a positive scene. We did a fun scene that met the requirements of the exercise. I got in it with my scene partner. I didn’t abandon him. That scene felt a lot better than the other two had.

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We went out after class, and that was fun. I got home. I was still beating myself up over those two tough scenes. That one good scene hadn’t fixed the night. The night hadn’t fixed me. It was more than an hour before I could get to sleep.

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This morning, I realized that when I notice myself start to get psyched out, probably it’s time to treat whatever exercise or scene I’m in like a game of Freeze. Get out there, do something, something big and strong and fun, and THEN FIGURE IT OUT. Not stand on the sidelines mulling over everything.

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The best thing to come out of this for me is the realization that just because I had a hard time with this exercise this one time, just because I had a bad night, that doesn’t mean that I am a bad person, a bad scene partner, or bad at improv. I had one bad night. Everybody has them. I’ll have a good one soon.

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Improv can’t fix me, and I shouldn’t ask it to, and I don’t need it to, because I, myself, am whole and enough. But it can give me tools that expand beyond the theater. Next time I have a bad day, a rough time, a tough conversation, I can remember: having a hard time doesn’t make me bad, and I’ll be having a good time soon.