Tonite I dropped into a Facebook message thread discussing an improv article that basically said fidgeting and pacing in an improv scene is always wrong. First comment I saw was from a fellow improviser who said she naturally paces a lot and what should she do? And from that I've started a new blog feature, the Unintentional Mailbag! Where I accidentally stumble into a facebook post while searching for something else and write a way too long for facebook answer so I make it into a blog post at 1am on a random Wed morning because it's such an interesting topic. Now you're all caught up. So the answer is, Yes, And Yourself. Which is actually a short answer. So my explanation of the answer was the too long part. Now you're actually caught up.
Before we dig in, a key point is that no actions in improv (and most actions you'll make in life) are ever wrong. However, they can be poor choices that make the scene/life a lot harder. For example, fidgeting and mindless pacing are not wrong, and they do make a scene/life harder. The majority of people are distracted by shiny things; it's not our fault, we're mammals. Fidgeting and mindless pacing are distracting. A distracted audience is thus paying attention to your movement and not to the scene. You have to work that much harder to get them back. And now you're chasing points like when the Eagles go for 2 in the first quarter and miss. It sucks for everyone.
Yes, And Yourself
Yes, anding yourself is the most important yes, and there is. It means you practice self-care. If you have a physical ailment, you take care of yourself and make sure you're safe. It also means you accept all the urges, thoughts, emotions, and actions you have...without judgement. At least that's the goal we're moving towards. Trying to suppress a thought, urge, emotion or action does not work as a long-term strategy because it invites actual constriction, tightness, less blood flow in the body. How? Well, how do you suppress your body from physically moving? You tighten your muscles. Same thing happens if we try to suppress thought, urges or emotions. Suppression degrades the strength of the connection to relaxed/in the flow/zone, a connection that great improv requires. Instead of trying to stop judging yourself...can you spend one less second today judging yourself than yesterday? One more second without self-judgement on stage this time? One more second second in the zone? One more second allowing? One more second intentionally moving? You can totally do one more second a day of something!
For your particular question, some part of your body has an urge to move. So let the urge be there....and then choose to direct it, to move/not move in a way that works for you; that serves your life and the scene. Here's one way to do it.
Everything in life is a practice. No one learns how to drive or tie their shoes in one attempt. Remember it took Harry Potter 7 books to learn to use his wand well enough to defeat Vladimir Putin. It takes time and practice. I bet you can do it in 5 books, and zero pressure from me. The specific practice you're going to cultivate is the intentional movement muscle.
The goal is conscious intentional movement. Start small. Build up. When you can do each step 3x for 2 performances in a row, move to the next step. Start with step 1, then 1&2, 1&2&3, etc., until you are doing steps 1-5 each show. The more you practice, the easier and faster it gets.
1. Notice you have an urge to move while on stage
2. Say 'Yes, And' to that part of you that wants to move on stage. Accept and allow it to be there...without judgment. :)
3. Take a slightly deeper than regular breath, and briefly pause
4. Choose to move or not. (Just because the voice is saying 'move' doesn't mean you need to listen.)
5. If you choose to move, make it work for you and the scene. Decide on the reason you're moving; even if you don't speak it, it transmits to your movements and they are more natural.
Here's a secret the Dali Lama told me....you can practice this at home! Huh?!?! Because how we are on stage is how we are in life. I'm going to guess there's times in your day or week where you get an urge to move. Use those times to practice the steps. There's a whole industry of applied improv that teaches improv as a practice for life...who knew life could be practice for improv?!?!
For extra credit:
Sit in a quiet place with eyes closed and ask what part of you wants to move. Invite that part of you to sit with you and have lunch. Ask what they want to eat and serve that. See and imagine yourself sitting at lunch eating with that part of you. Cultivate a relationship with that part of you. Ask who that part is, what's it's name, what does it need, for what reason is it asking you to move. Let the conversation wander from there.
While you might not know it by name, you most certainly know the inner critic by reputation. It’s that voice that fills your head with shitty thoughts and says you’re a no good, stupid, arrogant, selfish, worthless, terrible human. The inner critic is like a loud, foul-mouthed, demeaning DJ using a playlist containing your worst hits of all time. Today we’re taking a look at how the inner critic and shame work and where they come from.
When humans first evolved about 180,000 years ago, we could only survive in tribes. To be kicked out of the tribe meant certain death from animal attack, starvation, or the elements. Thus, the goal was to stay in the tribe and to achieve this, humans had to develop two capabilities:
1. A way to keep track of actions that could result in tribe expulsion
2. An internal mechanism to force compliance.
Think of the first capability as a computer hard drive containing a database or electronic encyclopedia. When we’re born the database/encyclopedia is blank. The entries in it begin soon after our first breath outside the womb when we begin interacting with the world. The database is populated with the messages we received as children from parents, family, caregivers, teachers, institutions, and peers, that told us which actions were acceptable (by the tribe) and which were not (and could result in tribe expulsion). Essentially it functions as a list of societal rules, norms, ethics, and laws to be obeyed.
Think of the second capability, the inner compliance mechanism, as a playlist of shame messages. Shame is our most powerful human emotion. It says, ‘we are fundamentally a bad human because of an action we took.” It can shut us down, make us shrink and most importantly from an evolutionary perspective change behavior.
In real life it looks like:
· Person takes an action
· Inner critic checks the action against the database
· If action is acceptable, inner critic is quiet
· If action could result in tribe expulsion, inner critic presses play on shame playlist to force
The inner critic and shame messages are actually not all bad. They keep us from killing people, leaving the toilet seat up, and wearing plaid with stripes. However, they can become dysfunctional as we grow to adults and use a database that was designed for an 8-year-old; the messages that applied back then do not necessarily apply now.
Imagine wanting to hear a calming nature sounds playlist as you go to sleep and instead you get death metal because your Spotify playlist got corrupted; neither is wrong and it’s not what you wanted. If a computer becomes corrupted or stops working the way we need it to, we don’t have to throw it out; we can simply take it in a get it working correctly again.
Two key takeaways are that your inner critic database and shame playlist were given to you as a child, regardless if they were helpful/harmful or if you wanted them. And your parents or other humans are at fault; every human is imperfect, they did the best they could, and they can miss the mark.
The good news is that as an adult you can install a new playlist with messages you get to choose and we'll cover that in next week's post.