What to do with scene suck

It’s easy to be a believer when life is good. As a Tao-nitarian (religiously, I’m bi–spiritual, I go both ways), it’s effortless for me to follow the way of the universe when everything’s going my way.

I’m here because I am meant to be here.

It’s only when the shit hits the fan that I run for my teddy bear begging someone for a different way.

Why am I here?!?

My religious friends would tell me that’s the point. It is precisely at these moments that one should look to one’s beliefs (faith – if I may use a loaded word) to get through the crap storm.

Pooh is my co-pilot

The same is true in improv. I am talking about the sucky scene.

We’ve all been there. You are on stage, the audience is out there in the dark, you are acting your ass off. Meanwhile…

Cricket… cricket…

Time has slowed down. You’ve discovered that even the soles of your feet are sweaty. You’re scene partner is giving you nothing. The dreaded four horsemen of the improv apocalypse are upon you: Confusion, Fear, Frustration, and Self Doubt.

And of course all you are thinking is, Get me the HELL off this stage!

This is the precise moment when you need to cling to your improv faith and look to the basics. Regardless of your training, just like a marine in a firefight, when your scene is burning down around you, stick to your basic training, soldier.

In Dan Diggles book, Improv For Actors, he suggests three simple improv rules to live by:

  • Make your partner look good
  • Yes And
  • Say the first thing you think of (which I translate to “Say what’s on your mind” – sorry, Dan)

I like these basics because they are easy to remember and fairly easy to follow… unless you are deep in panic mode. Unfortunately when this happens we revert to bad improv habits. The fear hits and we retreat into our reptilian brain of fight or flight.

We become mean: You are always late to everything!

Or Cold: Dad’s dead? I never liked him anyway.

Or Stupid: Hey, I always use a chainsaw in my proctology practice!

Instead, stop, take a deep breath, and focus on the basics.

1. Look at your scene partner. Chances are if the scene isn’t working for you, it probably isn’t working for her either. You are in this boat together so give your scene partner your energy and focus on making her look good.

2. In your panic it appears that your scene partner isn’t giving offers, but this is an illusion. Everything is a potential offer. Watch your scene partner, and yes and his offers without judging their worth.

3. Say what’s on your mind. Are you scared? Just say that. Just say, I’m scared and see where that takes you in the scene.

And keep breathing.

Come to think of it, maybe these three rules are good advice for all life’s challenges.

Today’s improvmantra: Forgiveness. We all screw up. Let’s all forgive ourselves.


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.
This entry was posted in Attitude, Books, Fear, Fundamentals, Improv Life Lessons, Taoism/Zen and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What to do with scene suck

  1. I like what you write, had to stop by and check you out 🙂 You left a comment on my other blog; Annastao. Keep up the good work, Anna

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