Tag Archives: thankfulness

Give it all, give it now.

“Spend it all. Shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place…give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things will fill from behind, from beneath, like water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
—Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I was reminded of this Annie Dillard quote by Laura Turner’s guest post at Rachel Held Evans‘ blog this week. Turner writes, “Where am I giving from, and what am I holding back? Am I giving from abundance? And if so, why I am I holding on to so much when I know that everything I hold back from God is exactly what separates me from him?”

I would add that everything I hold back separates me from other people, too. And this is a problem if I want to do improv.*

If I find myself holding back my ideas and my impulses — which are all I have to offer on stage — I won’t connect well with my scene partner, and then the audience won’t connect with our scene. We won’t stumble into truth or comedy if we can’t connect, and we can’t connect if we’re not willing to give generously of ourselves.

I go through phases of having trouble giving of my ideas. “My ideas aren’t good enough” is one reason; “My ideas are AWESOME and I’m saving them for myself” is another. Both of these attitudes are selfish. The first masquerades as humility, but it’s actually selfishness and fear.

When I first started learning improv, I would try and come up with good ideas to use at my next practice. And sometimes, during practice, I’d come up with a Really Good Idea. A Hilarious Idea. An Artful Idea. But I wouldn’t play it right away. I’d want to save it for a show. No sense wasting it in practice, right?

Ironically, when I did use these good ideas in practice, the scenes turned out to be flat and uninteresting. And those good ideas I had on the sidelines to save up for a show? I don’t remember actually using any of them. They were ideas that made sense in the moment, but not outside of it. They absolutely turned to ash.

Preparing characters and situations before practice is not actually improvisation; it’s writing. Writing is wonderful and valuable, but it’s a different pursuit altogether. Improv really is best when it’s improvised.**

Those impulses you have on the sidelines? The ones in your gut? Go with them. Right now. Don’t judge them. Don’t save them for later. Don’t hold them back out of politeness. Don’t be polite at all; be generous. The most generous thing you can possibly do is throw your idea out there for the group to play with.

Maybe the idea won’t play the way you thought it would when it occurred to you. Maybe it morphs into something else. That’s ok. If you’re on stage, the idea has already served its purpose. The only time an idea has any value is if you let it move you from the sidelines to the stage. 

Once you’re on stage, it’s not your idea anymore, anyway. It belongs to the group. That means it’s not up to you to make it come out ok. You can relax.

Remember that attitude of thankfulness exemplified in Red Ball? Generosity is born out of that. If you feel like you can’t afford to give your ideas and go with your impulses, ask yourself if you’re thankful. Everything is a gift you can be specifically thankful for.

thankfulness –> generosity –> connection –> truth/comedy

*It’s also a problem if I want to live life in the Church. Or even if I just want to be, you know, a human being who has friends.
**Duh.

How to Play: Red Ball

This warm up game teaches how to give and receive well.

(It’s also where I got the name for this blog.)

How to Play:* Everyone gathers in a circle. One player (the giver) walks to another player (the receiver), makes eye contact, and holds out an invisible red ball.

The giver says, “Red ball.”

The receiver makes good eye contact and responds, “Thank you, red ball.”

The giver then takes the receiver’s place in the circle, and the receiver now becomes the giver. The new giver takes the same red ball, gives it to a new receiver, then takes his place.

A note for the giver: Interact with the ball, but don’t keep it for long, and don’t spend energy deliberating on who should receive it. Pick someone who looks like he needs a gift — trust your first impulse. When you give, be clear and specific. Make eye contact, and wait for acknowledgment from the receiver before you walk away.

A note for the receiver: Look the giver in the eye before you receive the gift. Thank her sincerely, then receive the gift with enthusiasm before you become the giver yourself. Make sure to say the full sentence, “Thank you, red ball!” This assures the giver that you’ve understood her. Be sure to receive the gift you were given, not the gift you thought you would get. That is, if you are handed a tennis ball, don’t receive it like a beach ball.

A note for the waiters: Stand with your hands open in front of your or relaxed by your sides. This shows that you are ready to receive whenever someone is ready to give. If your hands are in your pockets or balled into fists, don’t be surprised when you aren’t offered many gifts. 

 

“Red Ball” is at the core of what improv is about.

It’s the first game I teach to a new group of improvisors — whether they’re new to improv or just new to me. It sets a tone for the attitude I want to see throughout the rest of practice.  

It teaches you to treat everything as a gift, even if it wasn’t what you expected or wasn’t from the person you expected.

It teaches you to appreciate the giver as a person as well as the gift she has to offer.

It teaches you to hold your gifts loosely. They’re not yours to keep. They’re yours to give to whomever is open and ready to receive.
 
No gift is boring. It’s all in how you receive it.

I taught this game to a group of pastors and leaders at my church a couple of years ago, and they were quick to see obvious applications in Christian life:

We think of our abilities as gifts from God — make sure to acknowledge the Giver, not just the gift! — and that these gifts are given to us so that we may give to others in turn. How easy is it, though, to think of my gift as something scarce and rare, something I should protect and keep? But that’s burying a talent. We are made to give generously. (And if we’re attentive waiters, we won’t be empty-handed for long.)

And when we receive from one another, we are to do so with openness and thankfulness. I’d like to be totally self-sufficient, but I’m not. I don’t have everything I need, because I’m only one part of a larger body.  I need to be open to receiving gifts from other people, even if they’re not what I thought I wanted.

This fluid giving and receiving of gifts is what we’re called to in 1 Corinthians 12. The passage begins with listing the gifts, then establishing the metaphor of people as different parts of one body who must function as a whole.

It’s no coincidence that this is followed immediately by the famous “The Way of Love” passage. It doesn’t matter what wonderful gifts you have if your attitude isn’t one of love. In improv, we love one another by giving and receiving well.

*Tips for whoever is leading the game: Once the group has established a rhythm with the first red ball, add a yellow ball, a green ball, etc. If they seem to be doing well with the balls, add something large and unwieldy, like an anvil. Or something interactive, like a hyper puppy. Or something delicate, like a glass slipper. Having almost as many objects as you have people in the group — though not more! — keeps the energy high. Once the game has gone for a few minutes, start setting aside objects as you receive them. The action should decrescendo into stillness once you’ve received the last object.