We are all afraid. Everyone everywhere is afraid of something. Fear is as basic a human emotion as love, anger, or sadness. Before we had speech we had fear. And yet, improv (and all art, really) is about pushing the boundaries of fear. We improvisers make our bread and butter (what little there is to be made) by acting fearless. At the same time, any improviser who claims to actually be fearless is lying.
Most improv I have seen, in many cities and towns, (have I told you that I am an improv nerd yet? Oh, I have? Ok then…) is completely controlled by fear. A lot of improv tends to be short, meaningless drivel created by “fearless improvisers” who are really just scared to be real; or scared to explore something beyond the three or four games they are good at doing. This is why so much improv is completely forgettable.
Fear kills improv. But, improv must embrace fear. How is this possible?
To truly deal with fear, improvisers must understand the fear dynamic. Basically, if you try to ignore fear, it grows, if you try to fight fear, it wins. Fear cannot be ignored or fought. The more power you give fear, the more you feed it.
The key is to neither fight it, nor ignore it. The key is to follow fear. Only by seeking it out and engaging in what you are afraid of can you rob fear of its power and make that power your own.
Truly great improvisers find what they are afraid of, and do that thing.
Remember, fear is about the future. (See the proof here) But, improv, after all, is about the now. So, find what you are afraid of doing and do it. Now. Doing what you fear takes away the future element and robs fear of its power.
Afraid of singing on stage? Do it. Practice and become the best singer in your troupe. Afraid of scenes in reverse? Do them, over and over again. Afraid of being honest on stage? You are not alone.
Actively seek out the things you are afraid of, breathe deep, dive in, knowingly with your eyes open, and do these things. If you can do this, you will change the dynamic of fear. And it will feel amazing.
Our audiences pay to see us defeat the dragons of fear. They beg us to do what they are afraid of doing. We owe it to them and to ourselves to constantly push into our own dark forests, and come out smiling.
If you are not doing what you and your group are afraid of doing, you are not improvisers. You are faking it.
If you are afraid, good. Do it anyway. This is what improvisers do.