In which I complain about complaining

As improvisers we know that we must live out the stories we create on stage. What I mean is that when I am creating a scene on stage, or telling a story, I live the characters and situations I create. If I make my character a right bastard, then I have to live with that choice. If I put my character on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, then there I am. If I want to get rescued, I am responsible for doing that too.

I’m the one in the suit

We also know that there are many things that happen on stage over which we have no control: the lighting improviser, the audience reaction… Or our scene partner, for that matter.

You can make offers, you can pick up offers, but you cannot control your scene partner. Let me repeat this for those of us out there who are morons like me: YOU CANNOT CONTROL YOUR SCENE PARTNER.

Yeah, intellectually I totally get this. But emotionally this one is hard to deal with. I don’t know how many times I have heard other improvisers say – or thought myself – Man! If <Blank> had just done <blank> this scene would have been brilliant!  Or so-and-so on stage made me a <blank> and it really sucked.

We improvisers can be such complainers!

I want a cookie NOW!

A few weeks ago Ben Bowman in his blog Boiling Point addressed this issue this way.

It is such an easy trap, complaining. It’s so easy, it sounds so damn good to our ears, and it so doesn’t get us anywhere! Complaining is habit forming, so that the more you complain, the darker you feel. The darker you feel… well, you get the idea. I have watched many an improviser spiral down this drain more than a few times.

Oh crap

Focus on the bad, and the bad becomes bigger.  An ok show with a bad scene becomes the worst show ever!

Of course, this isn’t just an issue with improv actors. Too many times we get all tangled up in negative nets of our own making by focusing on the wrong things in life. For me this usually happens late at night. I can’t sleep for one reason or another and pretty soon, the midnight demons of “regret,” “frustration,” and “should have” come circling. The more I think about them, the less I am able to sleep and soon I spiral into a full-fledged funk.

I wish

When all I really need to do is ask myself the following question:

Is it under my control?

No? Then I shouldn’t bother complaining, it will do me no good.

Yes? Then instead of complaining, I should do something about it.

Remember, we live the lives we create.  Not just on stage, but always, in all things we do. If you try and remember that… so will I.


About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
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