In college I decided to do something outside the normal scope of activity for me. I took an improvisational acting class. Not a workshop, but a full semester course in the art of performing without previous preparation. The culmination of the class was a play we would improv in front of a live audience. The play had a general timeline of events and characters, but no script. It was called "Tony and Tina's Wedding," and I somehow landed the part of Tina. The wedding guests would be friends and family we invited to the play. I would dance with my friends as if I were, in reality, Tina. For those of you that know me, your jaw must be on the floor by now. Me, the lead in an improvisational play. Quite frankly, I don’t know how I made it either, but somehow I managed. All the personality tests I have taken label me as severely systematic. I rarely do anything without planning. Ok, I never do anything without planning. And yet I found myself just going with it and having the best time doing it.
Looking back, I would describe the class as uncomfortable, but I took my grade of an A and moved on with no other thought than to NEVER DO THAT AGAIN! Fast forward ten plus years and I’m sitting in front of Martha Beck and the word improv creeped into the conversation. I could feel my body tense up as I was taken back to the role of Tina.
Martha made her point that we have forgotten (intentional or not) how to let go. When we try to control every moment in our lives, there leaves little room for spontaneity. That natural tendency or urge to do something simply because we have a desire to do it. Life is overly scripted and controlled, which feels like prison. A cultural side affect, I am certain.
I desire the freedom to resound life in a creative way but sitting there in front of Martha the only story I was telling myself was how awful my performance had been all that time ago. This happens all too frequently. The message is overridden by the stories we tell ourselves. The stories we’ve been telling ourselves for years. It’s stifling.
So how do you ditch the stories and throw caution into the wind? Start with the awareness that you are carrying those stories. Your first sign will come from your body. Notice what you tell yourself when your body reacts to something. Can you let go of those stories long enough to enjoy what is present?
I have found my awareness around being a type A planner. While I use it to my advantage in what I do, I now have an understanding that there are moments when I just need to surrender to whatever is present. To turn off the dialogue in my head, stop planning and respond creatively. Just improv. Armed with that knowledge today, Tina would certainly be a different bride than she was then. Dare I say, she would be a lot more fun.
Have you lost the improv in your life?