The Perks of Not Being a Backline Flower Part 1 - Stop Judging Yourself

This is the first part of a series aimed to help improvisers who are playing hesitantly or indecisively and find themselves glued to the backline.

I was coaching recently and asked the improvisers to each share a personal improv goal. A goal that stuck with me from one of the actors was “I want to get out there more.” Meaning they were holding back making any moves at all and behaving like a spectator to their team’s show.

This is a very common blocker for plenty of folks and it is frustrating. You know it’s happening, your team knows it’s happening, and the audience notices it too. Regularly being too hesitant and not an active participant normally comes down to a few different things, but for now let’s talk about self judgment.

You’re Judging Yourself
In my experience this is the prevailing reason, especially for improvisers with only a couple years or less under their belt. You’re worried about your idea not being good enough, or not being funny enough, or not being smart enough. Or you aren’t convinced you know exactly what is going on.

I remember the first couple of years doing this and being worried that if I took a step into a scene, I was going to ruin what my partners were doing. That I had no place. Every so often I’d take that hesitation stutter step out (you know what I’m talking about) and then doubt myself and never make the move. Everyone saw that little hokey-pokey step and my hesitation became a distraction. It took me a long time to be confident enough to make a move and then execute on it rather than overanalyze it instantly.

After shows I often hear things like, “I wanted to go out there as the doctor.” or “I wanted to be your character’s conscience.” or “I wanted to play the waiter.” or “I wanted to make thunder noises.”

All of that is great! Get out of your head and just be the doctor, be their conscience, be the waiter, be the thunder. Do it all!  Please, just get out there with your idea if you can serve the scene, the show, and your partners. The key here is that you are being supportive, and not just doing this stuff to remind everyone you are on the stage.

Why are you so worried about something not being good enough? We are all building a show together, literally moment by moment. There isn’t supposed to be a predetermined outcome. Trust that whatever your move is, your partners will support it and provide a new piece of information that builds off yours. You don’t need to have all the answers because you have a team behind you making this show with you.

If you make a move and confuse your partners, or aren’t supported, just talk about it after the show. Not from a place of judgment, but from a place of mutual understanding so during the next show you can be more connected. This happens all the time! Just ask things like “Did you know what I was going for in that scene?” Maybe what you thought was serving the scene actually wasn’t, or your move wasn’t clear enough and needed more information. That’s OK! If you never make the move, and then never talk about it, you never learn the lesson or grow as a performer.

Making moves is everything! This is how you develop your confidence, how you get more connected with an audience, how you build a show, how you grow instincts, learn your comedic voice, connect with a team, fine tune your timing, and most of all have fun. This is why you go to class or rehearsal. It’s why you read all those books, or are reading this now. Participate and you’ll grow.

Is everything you do going to be great? No, some of your choices will not be successful. However, the odds of a choice you never make being successful are exactly 0%. Go ahead, check my math.

So what if your move falls flat? At least you tried to support your partners and serve the scene. Better than being the person who only wants to press the button on the scene, or leaves their partners out to die, or leaves a stage empty until someone else initiates, or only goes out when they know that they personally will be the funny one. That’s not serving the scene, that’s serving yourself.

Find ways to get your reps. Jams, mashups, practice groups, etc. Just keep getting your reps in and make a focused effort to let go of that voice in your head and just jump out there with your ideas when you have them. Remember this is supposed to be fun so join it!

Next time we’ll discuss  judgment of your partner causing you to be indecisive/inactive in shows.