Tag Archives: college students

Thinking over thinking

I thoroughly enjoyed this video, posted last week by Ze Frank.

In life — especially in church — I view people telling me, “Don’t think so hard! You’re thinking too much!” as a giant red flag. I don’t appreciate being asked to turn off my brain.

Phillip Carey summarizes the problem well in the chapter of Good News for Anxious Christians entitled, “Why You Don’t Have to Worry about Splitting Head from Heart.”

“The new evangelical theology, like all forms of consumerist religion, … requires you to be afraid of engaging in critical thought, so that you’re easily manipulated and easily pressured into wanting to feel what everyone else feels. … So it’s hardly surprising that a misleading piece of rhetoric (‘don’t split your head from your heart’), which has the effect of making you feel you’re thinking too much, is pretty popular in evangelical circles these days.”

I often tell improvisers I’m coaching, “Get out of your head!” At first glance, that seems to be the same thing as “You’re thinking too much!”* It’s not. But I can see them get stressed out when they misunderstand me, because then they start thinking about their thoughts, which is an unhelpful internal spiral of nothing happening.

What I actually mean is, “Think in a different way!” Or, more actively, “Do something! Think about it as you go instead of agonizing about your actions beforehand.”

Most players I’ve coached have been college students at a competitive school. They spend all day at taking notes on lectures, writing papers, doing research, and conducting experiments. They use their analytical brains all day.

When I tell them to get out of their heads, I’m not asking them to turn off their brains. I’m asking them to use a different part of their brain than they use in philosophy class. I’m asking them to use the intuitive part, the playful part. The logical part doesn’t disappear, it just takes second chair for a few hours. That the players are smart, logical people makes the play that much richer.

So I like how Ze Frank says this:

It is possible to overthink, but first you have to think and try and talk and do. And after that, if you’re still at an impasse, maybe then you let go. 

I also liked this:

Laughter is the release of suddenly unnecessary emotional inertia.

(See this post on why death scenes are funny in an improv show.)

*If I ever tell you you’re thinking too much, you have permission to kick me in the shin.

Improv is not therapy: a cautionary tale

Improv can be very therapeutic. It can teach you better communication skills, help you access and process your emotions, and give you practice relating honestly to other human beings. And, if you’re a Christian, I think improv can give you some concrete practice in doing unto others and being part of one body. Improv has helped me be better at being a human.

But I cannot emphasize this enough: Improv is not therapy.

I’ve been part of troupes where one player had a crush on another, or a grudge against another, or whatever, and they made every scene about that. I had one teammate who went through a phase of turning everything into a father-son scene in which the son takes revenge upon the father and another who made every scene into a fantasy of his relationship with one girl.

If a coach asked a player like that about her choices, she would say, “That was my first instinct. I’m drawing on my life experience.”

Ok, do that. Draw on life experience. Take your instincts seriously.

I can’t tell you your instincts are wrong. But you should have the self-awareness to know when your instincts are helpful. Work on your interpersonal relationships outside of practice. Drop the agenda. Improvise in the actual moment with the people who are actually present.

Improv is not therapy. For that matter, church is not therapy. Therapy is therapy. And it might be totally necessary and helpful, but it’s for a certain time and place.

Do not turn your improv practice into group therapy time any more than you would turn an inductive Bible study into group therapy. You’re there for a very specific purpose. Leave your issues at the door. Take care of yourself outside of practice, or else you’ll end up with a cripplingly dysfunctional group dynamic.

And now, a true, cautionary tale:

This was our “ironic detachment” phase. It did not serve us. The Breakfast Club was not taking new members.

We were a college troupe, and we named ourselves Third Wheel. We may as well have called ourselves, “We feel awkward and jilted, and maybe nobody likes us, but watch us not care.”

Four of our guys, two of whom were gay, were in love with one of our girls; well over half of us (myself included) were on heavy duty medication for depression and anxiety. Because we couldn’t leave our issues at the door, the atmosphere was poisonous. Every practice was like that one Angel episode where our heroes get possessed by metaphors for their relationships. 

If our coach called us out on it, we paused our infighting to band together against him. He was obviously wrong and couldn’t understand the emotional depth of our scene work. (We burned through a lot of coaches.)

I so wish these pictures were not typical of our collective attitude.

We didn’t get many shows, and we were cut from the roster after only a few months. It is really, really hard for a whole troupe to get cut at a Christian college, where folks are generally prone to charity. To my knowledge, we were the only team ever to get cut rather than fade out as our members graduated.

I was outraged and heartbroken at the time. However, if I were in the club director’s position, I hope I would have had the guts to make the same decision.

Half of the players quit pursuing improv altogether. Some of them were really good, too. It’s a shame, but who could really blame them after that soap opera?

Even so, some of us are still friends, and those of us who stuck with improv were better for having been through an in-depth course in how-not-to-practice. I hope you don’t have to go through the same thing to learn that lesson.

For the record, I think each of these people are lovely. There are hugs when we cross paths.