Surprise me

I’ve been performing improv for a long time. This is my 22nd year of being in an improv troupe. I have done Short Form, Harolds, Theater Sports, created my own long forms, etc, etc, etc. I am not saying this to brag, I know plenty of people who have not been performing improv as long as I have and who are much better at it than me. Although my years in improv have not necessarily given me the ability to be brilliant, they have given me a lot of perspective.

If improv were my wife, we’d be the equivalent of an old married couple.

 Still beautiful in my eyes

When I first met improv I fell madly and immediately in love. Improv was smart, sexy, mysterious, alluring. Like any young lover, I couldn’t get enough of it and all of it felt great. I’d improv anywhere: on couches, in backseats of cars, quietly in my parent’s basement. My “single” friends got really sick of me talking about improv. I couldn’t say enough good things about it. Each performance was the best ever. Each game I learned, each skill I practiced was more interesting than the last. Life with improv was awesome.

Back when Improv and I were hot

After a few years, however, I began to notice improv’s faults. Some games weren’t actually all that much fun and some were downright stupid. Sometimes improv could be so shallow and annoying. We broke up, briefly, and I even cheated on improv with sketch comedy. I’m not proud of that, but these things happen. Something about improv however kept me coming back.

Eventual we fell into a routine of weekly rehearsals, teaching and performing. Sometimes I’d create new games, just to spice things up. I became comfortable with improv. We knew each other well and like any long-term relationship, we gotten into ruts at times and boredom has invariably crept in.

 Improv: You don’t bring me flowers, anymore

It’s like playing poker with the same people all the time, if I may change metaphors mid-stream. In poker everyone has a “tell”. The tell is the thing that you do when you are nervous. Do you look up and to the right? Do you adjust your glasses, clear your throat? Basically, I know improv’s tells. There are very few things that surprise me with improv anymore. Most times, when I see a show it’s like watching an old lover take off her clothes. There is just no mystery.

There’s the thing: how do you keep it fresh after 22 years? Someone once told me that the secret to a great marriage was compromise, but perhaps this isn’t so. Perhaps, the secret to a great marriage is risk and challenge. Perhaps, if you want a relationship not just to last, but to flourish, you have to keep surprising each other. Improv is no different. Any group of improvisers worth their salt need to keep surprising each other because if you are not surprising each other, how can you hope to keep the audience surprised and interested. Thankfully, I work with a group of performers who will challenge me, take risks and surprise me.

Because, let’s face it. Sketch looks exciting at night, but when I wake up the next morning I always feel cheap.

That’s Sketch on the left

Today’s Improvmantra: Surprise yourself and others.

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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, Improv Life Lessons and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Surprise me

  1. Jonathan Hibbs aka Uncle Jonathan says:

    Great post…….but I’m not getting a tattoo.

  2. HAHA hilarious! 🙂 Thanks for the analogy.

  3. My suggestion is to go to an “Improv Therapist” and listen to what improv wants. And you might want to do it with improv in a new place. And improv might want to wear a wig.

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