Tag Archives: fear

On the hook

I’ve said before that Jet Eveleth is one of my favorite teachers. Here she is, talking about nerves and fear:

There are at least 19 wonderful things in this video, but I want to highlight this comment:

“I purposely do things that scare me all the time to learn how to manage my adrenaline so that I can be more authentic onstage. … Especially because I teach, I think it’s really important for me to constantly be scared so I’m empathetic with my students.”

Sometimes, after a Jet workshop, I’d ask, “I’d never done that exercise before; what is it from? Where can I learn more things like this? How can I get better at this?”

Jet’s answer was usually along the lines of, “I learned it from clowning. Paola Colletto is the best clowning teacher around. Take classes from her if you can.”

So I Googled Paola Colletto and found out that her classes were way out of my budget, in terms of both time and money. And I felt a little relieved. Well, that scary thing isn’t an option for me. I’m off the hook.

Until last week, when I heard through the Facebook grapevine that Paola was offering a class called “Physical Theater for Improvisers.” It’s in my schedule and my budget. That puts me back on the hook. I’ve talked with Paola, sent my registration check, put it on my calendar.

I’m purposely doing a thing that scares me. And now it’s time to panic.*

*My friend Steve asked when the class was, and I told him it doesn’t start for another 3 weeks. “So now is not actually time to panic. You cannot possibly panic for 3 weeks straight.” Watch me.

Students scaring teachers

Last night, I played again with my friend Brendon at Open Source Improv. It was our second show. We were all warmed up, the logistics were taken care of, I was feeling relaxed and ready …

Until 3 of my students walked in the door.

Then I got anxious.  

Every week or two, Jimmy Carrane posts a talk show podcast called Improv Nerd, which I highly recommend. His guests are talented improvisers who have some connection to Chicago’s improv scene. In the dozen or so episodes I’ve listened to I’ve noticed a trend:

It doesn’t matter how many Second City Mainstage shows they’ve done, how many i.O. classes they’ve taught, even how many seasons they performed on Saturday Night Live. They say that they’re afraid of being found out as frauds.

This seems especially true of improv teachers. When I took classes at i.O, a few of my teachers would encourage students to come to their shows, then quickly admit that having students in the audience freaked them out. If they just taught a 3-hour class on environment, then their show better have a rich environment. If it doesn’t, their students might call them on it. Or worse, their students might lose respect for them.

I think that’s where my anxiety was coming from last night. It helped that I’d heard so many players I admire come on Improv Nerd and name that feeling. Naming the fear drained some of its power. That gave me enough distance harness that fear as energy instead of letting anxiety win the day.

I felt better about this show than about the last show, partly because the students were there to scare me.* I think I play better when I’m scared but don’t let the fear win.

*I do not think they were there for the purpose of scaring me. That was just a side effect.

In which Piglet, a Very Small Animal, is more important than he thinks

There’s a player who tends to hug the back wall during workshops and shows, either because of fear or because he wants to make sure everyone else has had a turn. Too often, though, he never takes a turn himself. We’ll call this player Piglet.
Dear Piglet,
I want to see more of you, but you seem afraid to leave the sidelines.
It’s a little Anxious to be a Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by players who think they have more Brains and more Bounce than anyone else. You may think, “If they want me in their scene, they’ll ask me, or they’ll pull me in. They look like they have everything under control on their own. I don’t want to rock the boat.”
Piglet, you can’t stay in your corner of the Forest, waiting for others to come to you; you have to go to them sometimes.
I know you’re worried about The Worst happening. Maybe it would help to say The Worst out loud. Supposing The Worst happened, what then? And what would happen after that? Usually, The Worst thing that can happen if you take a big risk is that you’ll look silly and people will laugh at you. But this is an improv show, so that’s actually a good thing. That means you can give all your Supposings a rest.
Here’s a secret: Other players could stand to be a little more like you. I know you’re Very Small, but you’re thoughtful. You are willing to give away the spotlight, and that can be a Noble Thing, as long as you’re doing it to build someone else up and not just to hide yourself.
Some of those Brainier, Bouncier players need to learn a little Consideration, a little Thought for Others. Because you have those things, I’m going to ask you to be very brave and to take lots of turns next time you play with your troupe. You know how much you need all of them; now you need to realize how much they need you, too. 

Fear, Failure and Feathers

Here is the picture from my elementary school history book that made me afraid of being tarred and feathered.

I thought it might happen to me on accident if I walked on our road too soon after new asphalt had been poured. I don’t know where I thought the feathers would come from, though. Or the colonists.

(Other childhood fears included: scorpions, letting my feet touch the floor if the lights were out,* and the witch from “The Three Little Pigs.”**)

I’ve been thinking about fear because of improv. I’ve heard that fear of public speaking is almost as common as fear of death. Several people lately have told me that they can’t imagine trying improv, that they would be so afraid that they would throw up or pass out.

I want to tell them that a very good improviser I know has been known to throw up before shows. And I’ve passed out at key moments in plenty of practices, including practices I was directing.*** Improvisers aren’t fearless people but people who choose not to let that fear keep them from playing.

However, we do let that fear drive us away from playing our best.

The common things improvisers are afraid of include: Not being funny enough, looking ridiculous, having too much responsibility, having no control. Really, those are all manifestations of the fears of being hurt and alone.

If I don’t control this situation, it might go somewhere awful. And if it goes somewhere awful, it will look like my fault. And if it’s my fault, other people won’t want to play with me anymore. And if nobody wants to play with me anymore, I will be alone, and it will hurt. Therefore I must control all scenes and games or I will be alone. Probably forever.

When you actually write it out or say it out loud, you can see how irrational it is.

I think the best thing for me, and probably the best thing for many of my improv friends, was to experience undeniable failure.  

I didn’t control the scene, and it DID go somewhere awful! I knew it I knew it!

And then to realize that that’s as far as it went. We moved onto the next scene after that, or we shook off that horrible performance and showed up ready for practice the next week. None of the other scary hurt-and-alone-in-the-dark things really happen after failure. Ok, so there’s tar on your shoes. Acknowledged. But where did you think those feathers were going to come from again?


 *This was somewhat to do with scorpions, which were a real threat in my house, but mostly it had to do with that there might be some tar on the floor and I might accidentally step in it and get sucked in and be tarred and feathered.

** I know. There is actually no witch in “The Three Little Pigs.” A wolf, yes. But no witch. I still had nightmares about that witch, though.

***Anemia + abject panic = fainting.

Fear Not

When I was in elementary school, I was in a church Christmas play called Three Wise Men and a Baby. It starred our choir director as a bear and is a little hard to explain in words.

I’m the one who brings the myrrh and wears the large glasses.

Right now, though, I’m thinking about the shepherds.

The angel comes to the shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Tangent: That participial phrase, “keeping … night,” placed after the word “field,” should techinically mean that the fields were keeping watch. I’d never noticed that until I typed it out just now.) Anyway, the dialogue goes something like this:

Angel: Fear not.
Shepherds: AHHH!
Angel: I said, “Fear not.”
Shepherds: AAAHHH!
Angel: What part of “fear not” are you not understanding? Never mind. Listen up.

I’ve offered to teach an improv class for women at my church. We’re not planning to take over the city or anything, just give people an introduction. We decided to start with just women, because for some reason it’s harder to get women to play, so we thought an all-female environment would feel safer.

The announcement in the bulletin read:

Improvisational comedy workshop for women
Don’t be scared: Improvisation is not about being original or clever. It’s about working together with a group to create something beautiful and true (and often very silly). This is a great chance to stretch your creativity and to connect with other women at Rez in a lighthearted environment. Come play with us!

I heard a lot of enthusiasm, along the lines of “I’m so glad you’re doing that! This will be so good for building community among different ages of women who don’t normally spend much time together, and we have so much creativity in this church.” The next sentence was inevitably, “But I’m too scared to come.

Hey, I said, “Fear not.” What part of “fear not” are you not understanding?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been following up with those ladies who liked the idea but didn’t see themselves being brave enough to try. I explained that this is going to be a relaxed class, like recess for grown-ups. Some have decided to give it a go. We’ll begin next week.