No matter how long you have been doing improv, there will still come a time when are you in the middle of a scene and you have no idea what's going on.
This is awesome.
I remember a teaching example someone gave me long ago. Two beginning improvisors are on stage. One sees a cave. The cave is big. The cave is dark. Improvisor One says, "Let's go in the cave."
Do they go inside?
Chances are, the second improvisor will say “No”.
No way. We can’t go in there.
I’m afraid of the dark.
We have no torches.
There could be an animal in there!
It's normal to disagree.
Much of the training for new improvisors is teaching them how to say YES because NO is the default thing that wants to pop out of our mouths. Our brains want to keep things safe. Categorized. Defined. No, we are not going in the cave.
I have no idea what's in there.
But then you become a more seasoned improviser. You know to go in the cave. You know to open the bottle. You know to pour the contents of the bottle in your mouth. You know how to say YES. YES makes the scene move forward. YES makes your scene partner look good.
Take action. Do that thing.
Unless it becomes a crutch.
Like when you find yourself in a scene and the characters are getting into some undefined relationship territory. The emotions are vibrating up and down like a butterfly dance, back and forth between the players. Things were clear between these characters but now they are not. Who holds the power now? Where is this going?
At that moment, when it's unclear and the wind whistles all around you as you leap between sides do you announce a cave to explore? Do you smash open a bottle? Do you look for some action to draw focus from the emotions?
This feels uncomfortable! Look! Snake!
Or do you embrace the awkward?
Because it IS awkward. It's awkward to sift through a tangled relationship. It's a vulnerable place to be.
But if you let it be the awkward that it is, the audience will LOVE IT.
The trick is to embrace it as an improvisor. To learn to look forward to it like someone at the gym feeling their muscles work. Oh wow, where are we? I have no idea what is going on here. BUT SOMETHING WONDERFUL IS COMING.
If you trust this process, the audience will go through the journey with you, often at the edge of their seat.
But it takes courage.
It takes courage to not swipe a scene at the first sign of a stall.
It takes courage to lean IN to a relationship that is struggling on stage.
It takes courage to BREATHE during a group scene that seems like chaos as it finds its footing.
It takes courage. Trust. Belief. Anticipation. Delight. You name it.
It takes courage to go through the take-apart.
In every great story there is the unraveling. The part where it all seems to be going wrong and we have no idea how it’s going to end up right again. But when it does—when the hero saves the day, or like in movie The Sixth Sense the true reality is revealed—it has such an impact the audience gasps.
When we let a relationship go through a complete journey we give ourselves and the audience a HUGE CATHARTIC PAYOFF.
Of course, in a perfect world, we would stand on stage in complete knowing of the characters, the arc, the plot, and the ending. Right?
Nah, only if we are doing a play. :)
In improv, isn't it the thrill of the unknown that exhilarates us? The unfolding? The conclusion even WE didn’t see coming?
And sometimes in the best long form (even if the audience doesn’t see it but we feel it on stage) there is an awkward time. What we do with that time matters. Do we try to throw a blanket it on it and put it out like a fire? Or do we peer into it and see what gifts it has to bring, knowing that it’s the start of something amazing?
An egg about to hatch.
A gift about to be sprung wide open.
A relationship status shift.
A fun time working things out with our fellow improvisor making things up ON THE SPOT.
How we think about that awkward time makes all the difference because with practice, it doesn't feel awkward anymore.
It feels like possibility.