I used to think the only satisfaction I could get from improv was when I performing it. You know, the attention that being on stage gives you. I thought I could only be happy if I was getting the laughs, the applause and the accolades.
That is how I thought for a long time.
I was a scared and selfish improviser because I was scared and selfish person. It was all about me. All the time.
I am grateful to report that today some of my happiest and proudest moments in improv aren’t coming from my own performing – they’re coming from watching my improv students succeed.
It happened last week. At the end of the Art of Slow Comedy Level 3 class, the students put on a long form performance for their friends and family. It’s nothing fancy. We just set up about 20 chairs in a classroom. We have no stage. No lights. And last week, the form was simple, a montage.
Though the space was casual, the work these students did that night was on a very high level.
I could tell it was going to be a great show almost from the moment the show started, just from the first couple of scenes. The group was confident and poised. Though they were a bit tentative, they were patient and listening, which is always a good sign. The concerns I had about their editing disappeared; it was crisp and gave their set the momentum you need in a successful long from.
Typically, when my improv students put up a show, I am more nervous than they are because as the teacher, I hold all the fear for the group. But this time, I felt really relaxed because I could tell this group was on their way to doing a great show. I could stop worrying and actually enjoy the show because they were in the flow.
You often hear in improv about the individual finding his or her voice on stage, but you very rarely hear about the group finding its voice. That night, their voice emerged as group. They started almost every scene realistically and grounded, and if it happened to go absurd, they aggressively supported the game.
And the best part was no one was giving up his or her unique voice in the process. Instead, they were blending their voices together as if they were singing different harmonies to the same song.
To say I was proud was an understatement. That night I had as much of a performance high as if I had improvised right along with them. Though the show was over by 8:15 p.m., I was so excited I couldn’t fall asleep until 1 a.m.
That night was special for me. I certainly attribute it to my age. And therapy. And my loving wife Lauren. And being a parent, because my daughter, Betsy, gets me to see wonder and joy in life though her eyes, just like I must have experienced when I was a kid. Just like my students got me to see the wonder and the joy of improv through their eyes, the same wonder and joy I must have felt when I was starting out, too.
For that, I am grateful, and it makes me feel that teaching improv is one of the most gratifying things to do in the world.