I love reading books on spiritually as much as I love ones about improv. And one of my favorite things to do is see how spirituality and improv overlap. Recently, I having been reading a book called Love Is Letting Go Of Fear by Gerald Jampolsky, which is loosely based on some of the concepts from A Course in Miracles, which argues that we can all experience miracles when we become more aware of love’s presence in our lives.
As I’ve been reading it, I’ve been thinking about how embracing a worldview of love and acceptance can not only help our lives, but our improv as well.
Here are five ways that we can apply more love to our improv:
- Every scene is a love scene
I first came across the concept that every scene is a love scene in my acting classes, where they would explain that even if two characters are yelling and screaming at each other in a scene from a play, they’re angry with one another because underneath they actually love each other. “Find the love in the scene,” the teacher would say. This is true in improv as well in scripted work. In addition to finding the love between the two characters, you can also feel the love that you have for playing a character. For example, if you are playing a jerk in scene, find the love in playing the jerk. I love playing jerks, and when people in my classes play jerks, when the scene is over, the students usually say how much fun they had getting to play a jerk.
- Make learning your goal
Grades in school are not about learning; they are about results. And the more students focus on getting a certain grade, the less focused they are on just learning for learning’s sake. I do this in improv when I tell myself before a show that “I have to be the best” or “I have to be the funniest person on stage” or “I have to have a great show.” When I do this, I am expecting a certain result that is beyond my control. No wonder I have written so many blogs about the shame I feel after a show. But if instead I say to myself, “Tonight my goal in the show is to learn,” it takes the pressure off of me and frees me up so when I make a mistake during the show, I can let it go more easily. Why? Because I am learning.
- Come from a place of giving rather then getting
When I want something from improv — the laughs, to be the best, approval – I am looking for something to feed my ego. And you know what? My ego can never be satisfied. If my ego is the reason I’m doing improv, I’ll always be thinking of the next thing: “I should join another group,” “This isn’t helping me get ahead,” “So-and-so should ask me to be on their team.”But if I stop trying to get something from improv and instead look at how I can give to others in my scenes, I’ll have a lot more fun and connection.
There are so many different ways to give during an improv show. Practicing the basics of “Yes, And” is obviously giving, but there are many more. Editing is giving. Giving space to two players on your team who are doing a scene that is really killing. Heightening a scene with a selfless walk on is giving. And every time you do something that is in service to the group, you’re going to feel great about yourself.
- The only thing that matters is being in the moment
If you ask me what all forms and styles of improv have in common, I would say to be in moment. The now. Once the show, the scene, the game or the exercise has started, the only things that matters is the moment between the two players. Nothing else matters. If you are doing a scene in long from show, the suggestion doesn’t matter. If you are in class, the directions to the game or exercise you are doing don’t matter. The only thing that matters is what is going on in the moment between the two of you. That is your only priority.
- Focus on what you and your group or team does right
This is important to do before, during and after a show. Before our show Jimmy and Johnnie, John Hildreth and I along with our special guest will agree on one thing we want to focus on for that show. We rarely bring up the previous show since that is in the past. And if it is brought up, we never rehash it. We only talk about it with regards to what we would like to accomplish in tonight’s show.During the show, it’s also important to focus on what is going right, rather than wrong. That means don’t judge your partners’ on ideas or your ideas on stage. And if you make what you perceive of as a mistake, forgive yourself immediately and pray your ass off to stay in the moment.
After the show, focus on what went well. This is the one that I have struggled the most, especially after a shitty show. Post-show notes are important, and the positive notes are actually more important than the harsher more negative notes, since improvisers already seem to be pretty good at beating themselves up. Get in the habit of giving the positive notes first before you talk about what you could improve on.