Lately, any time I get up to do a scene - in a show, a class, a jam, a rehearsal - I have one goal: to find joy in that scene.
You may be thinking “wow, Cassidy, that is pretty rudimentary” or lame or boring or whatever (I don’t know your life) but I am here to tell you that ACTUALLY it is not. Joy should be at the heart of all of the improv we are doing. Why? Because that is the reason for doing this. With a few exceptions (hello exceptions! I’d love to be you!), we aren’t getting paid. We are doing this as a hobby or a passion or a thing to push us out of our comfort zone.
So why do we keep forgetting about joy?
Because we’re scared. We don’t want to look dumb on stage. We don’t want to fail. So instead of leaning into the joy and trying something that makes us feel good, we step back. We comment on the scene. Or we do something safe. Don’t do that! (I mean, stay safe. Don’t like hurt yourself or your partner. Be cool.) Playing it safe is boring. Joy is not.
Because we are TRYING to IMPROVE. Dudes. We are all trying to improve. (Or at least we fuckin should be. More on that here.) Guess what helps you improve? Enjoying the learning process. Robotically following the rules and focusing on what you should be doing sure as hell isn’t going to make you a more fun performer to watch. I’ve never heard anyone say “wow, I love watching that person on stage because they really mechanically do what they should do and only that.” The more joy you feel, the better you will be.
Because we want to be a good partner. Have you ever thought “oh man, I would love to make this move right now - because it would help the scene and bring me joy to do” and not done it because you were in the last scene or you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes? Shhhh. You’re gonna be alright. Don’t be a jerk, but if you’re making moves for the right reason, the joy you bring with you on stage will also make your teammates play more joyfully. Cool, huh?
Because we think we’re better than the thing we’re in. Ouch. As completely and totally embarrassed as I am to admit this, I’ve definitely fallen into this trap before. Playing with someone less experienced than you are? Or just someone who you honestly don’t really like? You can still find joy in that scene. And guess what? It’ll make you a better improviser to be able to find joy with people you don’t know / like instead of with just people you love.
We are here to connect with each other - not to compare ourselves with each other. One of the big things that can hold me back, personally, from playing with joy is wondering if I’m funnier than the other people on my team / in this show / on this planet. Ugh, right? (My head can be a very, very neat place. You’re welcome for that small glimpse into it.) That is a TERRIBLE thing to be thinking about. Like, in general. So what I’ve been trying to do lately is tell myself to shut the hell up when I start thinking like that. I don’t watch shows and rank the performers best to worst. I watch shows because I like to learn and I love improv. That’s what the audience is doing. They are there to FIND JOY and YOU SHOULD BE TOO.
Sometimes I do scenes with people who are frankly not good at improv. Sometimes I do scenes with people who are selfish jerks. I can still find joy in those scenes by choosing to play someone I think is fun to play. I can still find joy in those scenes by challenging myself. I can still find joy in those scenes by sometimes if the person is truly being a sexist bigot, crushing them a little bit. It’s a journey. I’m not perfect.
Remember being a kid? Were you ever like “oh man, gotta buckle in and play house today”? No! If you didn’t want to play house, you played horses. (Cassidy Russell, horse girl.) If your friends really wanted to play house, you played house, but you put a small spin on it so that it was fun for you too. Remember? Dudes, that’s what we’re doing here.
So how do we find joy? So many ways, sweet friends. By playing, truly playing. By choosing to be on teams with people you love. By allowing your teammates to surprise you. By trying something new. By challenging yourself to do something way out of your wheelhouse - use an accent or move your body or play a very old man or lie down on the floor or lean into an emotion you don’t normally use. By taking the suggestion and thinking “what does this make me think of that I would love to do?” By having intro music for your team that just makes you feel like really, really good. By thinking with gratitude about the audience who came all this way and paid to see your show. By thinking with gratitude about the talented, beautiful people you get to be on stage with. Maybe by singing.
Find joy, you weirdos.