You don’t have to beat yourself up to get better. Really you don’t.
Improvisers get off stage after a show and immediately want to talk about went wrong in a scene or with the show. They think by being hard on themselves they will automatically get better.
If only it worked like that. You are a performer. You are a sensitive creature, and you need some nurturing along the way. I am not suggesting that every thing you do is great, but I bet you find fault with your work more often than you recognize what you’re doing that is working.
As a director, when I give notes after a show, I am very conscious of finding what the ensemble did well first, then go into the harsher stuff, and guess what? They seem to absorb my comments faster and get better.
Trust me, I know how to beat myself up. I’m an expert at that. I can find more fault with myself than anyone else can. When I started doing Improv Nerd this fall, I spent the first couple of shows doing nothing but critiquing the show when I went home, lying in bed and wanting to quit and then wanting to kill myself. Then, by some miracle, I began listening to some of the compliments I was receiving, and I started realizing, “Hey, maybe I’m not that bad. Maybe I’m actually good.” And that freed me up to be looser and more confident in the following shows, making them even stronger. I needed some positive feedback, because God knows I wasn’t getting it from myself.
We forget that not everyone can do what we do, that improvising is hard. And we rarely give ourselves credit for doing something that most of the civilized word is terrified to do: to get up in front of people and be real.
As you look back over the past year, look at what you have done right. Think about the good shows, the opportunities you took, the compliments you received, the respect you were given. I bet it’s going to be a pretty long list. If you drawing a blank, call a friend who knows your work and ask him for some affirmations about your improvising. Instead of beating yourself up, look at the coming New Year as a time to look at what you accomplished. If you occasionally focus on the good, you’ll be amazed how much more quickly you will improve.