Published by ShawnKinley on

person in brown pants and black shoes sitting on brown rock near body of water during



person in brown pants and black shoes sitting on brown rock near body of water during

You sit on the edge.  You look down. What do you do?

Your real-world brain screams, “STEP BACK!!!”. The Improviser brain pushes you headfirst into the abyss.

On the way down you question what to do. You hear the audience scream. That’s something. You’ve had a visceral impact on them. BUT, WHAT NEXT??!

SPLAT!!! Too late. Too much thinking. Too much in your head and now the character is dead.

So you stand up and do it all again. You can because. THIS IS JUST A SCENE!!!

What did you learn? You learned that too much thinking does nothing to help you.

You stand on the edge. You Leap.

This time you dare the earth to kill you.  You aim your nose downward and stretch your body out fully. With the wind in your hair, the rocks below racing towards you, you speed forward. This time you instinctively spread your arms out and summon the eagles who swoop beneath you and carry you across the water to the island.

Your adventure has begun.  

In rehearsal, which version of this scenario is you? Do you take tentative steps and wallow in doubt and question? Do you take risks and play with the outcome? 

I was attending a class yesterday and observing the students. None of them leaped off the edge. Has everyone forgotten, THIS IS A REHEARSAL. There’s no audience. It’s you, your partners and maybe a teacher.

Who are you trying to impress?  

If you are trying to get it right all the time you are missing the biggest opportunities that rehearsals give you – mainly to take a risk and explore things you might not explore in front of a paying audience.

We need this low-pressure permission to play with what we know. If we fear failure in rehearsal, there’s not much chance to explore and play in performance.


  • Treat rehearsal like a laboratory, not like a test of your skills.
  • Be interested in the edges of your knowledge and push in that direction. REMIND YOURSELF THAT’S WHY YOU ARE HERE.
  • Foster an attitude of play and exploration. You might have to remind others that this is important, otherwise, the peer pressure to do “GOOD WORK” can be overwhelming. The pressure to impress is insidious when not addressed.
  • Focus your intent. If you are exploring ways to cope with stress, then remind yourself before you walk onto stage to be mindful of your stress levels and ACTIVELY explore ways of dealing with it in the scene. (try saying nothing, try speaking before you know what you will say, try speaking slower, try many things without knowing what the right answer will be.) You must try something (ANYTHING) to begin the process of improvement. Being “correct” is not what you are aiming for as an explorer of possibilities.
  • IF you don’t know what to do and no one is giving you useful input, do the OPPOSITE of what you might normally do. If you would normally listen quietly, be loud, and interrupt. (REMEMBER – push to the edges of usual behaviour). You don’t need to be told what to do. You need to do things that you aren’t doing and decide later if they were useful.
  • REMEMBER what you discover. Write it down. Discuss it with friends. Try it again. Use it when you perform. We are prone to forget things we don’t commit to memory. Talking and thinking about useful skills reinforces your behaviours. We don’t want to be thinking about it when we are performing so embed the lessons strongly when you are rehearsing and after. Save the show for play.
  • You aren’t there to impress anyone. You are there to explore, play, and push yourself.
  • Don’t judge. You are creating an environment of healthy exploration. Failure is more likely to occur but it’s the good failure that builds knowledge. Use the predictable failures as material to mine through. Where did it fail? What was useful in all of the garbage? Is there something you want to build on from this experience for the next time you explore? 
  • Use the phrase, “Let’s try that again!” often. Add things you’d like to try out loud. “Let’s do that again, but instead of holding our emotions in check, can we try it where we have no censor?” (by asking to try again and offering possible explorations, you encourage the fearless state of exploration in your group.

The last suggestion is important in multiple ways. Jumping forward with the desire to try again (BEFORE you jump forward with judgment) trains the brain to be fearless in the face of failure and not be overly protective. Encouraging others to try things in other ways trains your group not to settle in old patterns and pushes people to play with possibilities. You are reinforcing a healthy group attitude.

I don’t know your group. I’ve met many though, and I know that groups are as different as individuals. 

Some groups aren’t open to risk and explorations and the best thing you can do is to take care of yourself. Listen to what’s being said. If the message is dismissive towards risk-taking and exploration, try not to be led down that path. Take what is useful and discard the rest.

As an improviser, you deserve better teachers. As a person, you deserve better partners. That may sound harsh but the truth is, you become the tribe you are part of.

You might be in a healthy group that rehearses effectively. In that case, reinforce the environment by pushing yourself. Leap off the edge and learn to do it better and with variation. If you are doing that, it might be enough to benefit you and the others by your example.

You and your group will be better for it.


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