“An indecisive person”
“An indecisive person who…?”
“I have no idea. Who would you like me to be?”
I just finished my first level of Improv training advanced enough that we actually get formal feedback from our instructor, who is a member of the main performing troupe for the theater, and a written evaluation which goes to the next class if we’ve successfully made it into it. (I did, for those wondering. I can legitimately say I didn’t influence that decision, as you will learn if you read this post all the way through, though that’s not necessarily as good a thing as you might initially expect!)
You know how they say art imitates life? My art is dramatic irony at its finest.
According to my instructor, I’m actually a great performer when I’m leading. I offer up creative narratives with a lot of humor potential, I willingly offer side support, I seem to have a good sense of how to create relatable characters with genuine emotion – though I should play more with being the high-status character instead of always the low-status character – and my next instructor should encourage the class to engage with what I offer because I’m a strong leader who drives scenes forward when others do follow.
The problem comes when others don’t follow. Even though “Yes, And” is the foundation of Improv, failure to “Yes, And” – or just “Yes, Anding” in a thoroughly unexpected fashion – is a thing that happens often enough that I need to learn how to play off of it as strongly as when I do generate consensus. At the beginning levels, there can be a failure to accept an opening offer because the actor just isn’t experienced enough to recognize it. At the more advanced levels, since many actors that make it that far come from a theatrical background, many will just see my offer and raise it anyway because they think they have a better idea. If I ever do make the main troupe, I will be playing against audience members who will often offer complete non-sequiturs simply because they legitimately don’t know what “Yes, And” even means.
If my initial gambit is accepted, I’m decisive. If it isn’t, I’m too often indecisive and reorient the character or emotion I was exploring to be in consensus with whatever the other person(s) offered up.
Some performers get told they need to be more open to emotions or to improve their object work. Some just get told, “hey, be willing to share the stage a bit more.” Most performers get feedback that they need to remember to “Yes, And” more frequently. Me, however?
I get the feedback that I need to remember that there can be too much of a good thing. When an actor gets on stage and goes a totally different direction from what I initially was exploring, I need to remember that it is possible to “Yes, And” and still be decisive in who my character is and how they feel. “Yes, And” means that I have to accept whatever new facts are offered without disagreement. It doesn’t mean my character has to agree with them or come to a consensus on how they feel about those facts. If my character just lost an eye in a war (actual scenario from one of our sessions) and the entire rest of the characters react indifferently, I need to not be afraid to commit even more to how my character would react to that level of additional betrayal after such a life-altering event instead of instinctively deferring to the other characters’ opinions. The best humor comes from the audience recognizing authentic reactions to universal life experiences played out within fantastical and weird situations. It’s inherently funny to see my character decisively show his hurt and frustration because we all know that feeling, even if we can’t quite express it in such an over-the-top way…
So, I need to have the confidence to act high status and lead even when others don’t follow, I need to act decisively and I need to be true to who my character is even when others try to paint them as something else? Sure, why not?
It seems appropriate that I’d discover that I do have the potential to go all the way. The only thing standing in my way is just that pesky “resolving the central conflicts of my life born of experiences that shaped me long before I had any say in the matter” bit. Never ironically call Improv trauma therapy: you’re daring the universe to “Yes, And” you on it…
P.S. – as in real therapy, there is homework. Mine is to find situations that are fundamentally safe – not work, obviously – and practice coming to snap judgments, expressing them loudly and just sticking to them despite opposition. Bonus points if it’s a different decisive decision than what those who know me well would expect and if I don’t tell folks what I’m doing so they can’t inadvertently make it easier on me by giving in too easily.
My first decisive expression of this is that I’m going to my About page and removing that bit where I invite constructive criticism. My instructor also told me he had a feeling that – of all the class members – everyone but me would offer at least some justification of why they felt they deserved to go on to the next level regardless of his judgment about their readiness. I’d just say “whatever you think, you’re the expert.” Part of being decisive, however, is defending my right to my creative voice. Improv is subjective, and future instructors might not always rate me as highly as he did. That doesn’t mean I should automatically accept their judgments as gospel. So, given that advice, at this point, I’ve decided that my blog is what it is. If you don’t like it, go read something else. Art is subjective, after all. 🙂 )