If you don’t take care of yourself in this exciting, yet taxing art form you will be toast. Toast does not perform well on stage – it’s dry, and flat and doesn’t have much flavor.
If you want to avoid the toast syndrome, one of the best ways is through a little self-care.
Self-care is the art of taking good care of yourself so when you are put in high-stress situations, like improvising in front of a paying audience, you can perform to the best of your ability.
For me, self-care is simple. The days when I teach classes at night, I make a point not to run around town doing a million errands, and I take a bath before I have to go to relax. When I have a show at night, I take it easy during the day.
This whole concept of self-care is not taught in school, and it’s very rarely mentioned in the improv community — until now, since I am mentioning it. So, here are some very simple things you can do to take care of yourself that will not cost you a dime.
As you know, one of the most important things we can do as an improviser on stage is to listen, and when you meditate, you are able to quiet your mind so you can listen more fully. There are many different forms of mediation. You can focus on your breathing or on saying a mantra and be conscious of your thoughts. When your thoughts arrive, try to just be aware of them without judging them and let them go. Normally, I have a lot of negative voices in my head telling me that I suck and I’m a piece of shit, and I’ve found that nothing has helped reduce these messages more than 20 minutes of meditation a day. However, you don’t have to start with 20 minutes. Instead, just start with one or two minutes. After you can do that, increase it a little more each week until you get to 20. On the days I am teaching or am doing a show, I make it a priority to do my mediation. I find it helps me be more centered and open to other people’s ideas.
- Take a break
Instead of scrambling to take another round of classes or desperately joining another improv group that rehearses on Tuesdays at midnight, have you thought about taking a break? Yes, you say, but that would be quitting. Did you quit school every summer when you went on summer break? No, you didn’t. You went back to school in the fall with new life experiences, you were more focused, and you were excited to be with your friends again. The same principal applies in improv. I cannot tell you how many times I have taken breaks from improv and come back even more inspired. The length of the break is up to you. Remember, improv is not going anywhere.Occasionally I have returned from a break and have not felt that way, because either my break was not long enough or I didn’t really rest — just something to be aware of.
Write anything. Get out a piece of notebook paper or turn on your laptop and write anything. A poem. A short story. A screen play. A blog. Your memoir. Journal. I used to write improvised scenes in my notebook with the understanding that they were not going to be seen by anybody, but I was just doing it for practice. Whenever I write, even writing this little blog, I find it easier to organize my thoughts on stage. I have also found that writing helps take the pressure off of me when I’m improvising. I’m not sure how this works, but it does.
- Be Grateful
Improvisers can be the most ungrateful people in the world, especially if we think we are being passed over during auditions or other people are getting opportunities that we think rightly belong to us. But if you want to build momentum in your improv career, it’s essential that you be grateful for the stuff you already have that is right in front of you. When you can change your attitude about what you already have, you can have more fun on stage and bring a healthier, more positive energy to your work. You’re also a lot more fun to be around.So how do you work on your gratitude? My suggestion is to write down five things you are grateful for once a day. They can be improv or non-improv related. Nothing will jump-start how you feel about yourself and your career more than practicing gratitude. If you need help getting started, let me help: “I am grateful for reading this blog…”
- Drink Water
Yes, you read that right. Drink water. Not beer, not Starbucks, not Diet Coke, but water. H20. Drinking close to a gallon of water a day is one of the kindest and nicest things you can do for your body and your brain. I think a lot of people suffer from dehydration and they don’t even know it. When I get headaches and feel tired in the middle of the day, chances are I have not drank enough water. It’s so damn easy, and so damn hard at the same time, but if you want your body to function at the highest level possible, which is important when you perform on stage, then drink some fucking water.