In theory, we improvise every day or at least the days when we talk to people. We listen, sometimes better than others, and respond accordingly.
So why on earth is improv – or improvisation theatre – so bloody terrifying?
I know people like to throw around statistical nuggets like ‘fear of death is second only to public speaking’ to highlight how common this fear is and how extreme a fear it is.
And I consider myself to be a fairly rational person – sometimes to a fault – but standing in front of more than 2-3 people and speaking at them, not in a dialogue, is… bloody terrifying, despite the fact that I know I’m perfectly safe.
It helps to understand the evolutionary explanation. This is the theory that if we were standing in front of our tribe back in the day, that we weren’t doing it for theatrical entertainment.
We were likely defending ourselves from being attacked because we probably did something wrong, like stole more than our share of woolly mammoth meat – and our tribes people were ready to kick us out – or worse.
So… there’s a possibility that the oldest part of our brain, the amygdala, is still triggered when we get on stage in front of an audience.
Rational or not, it doesn’t really help my fear.
I first started overcoming this fear back in 2016, I began attending Toastmasters, which is a very popular non-profit organisation that sets up clubs worldwide to help its members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills.
And this definitely helped me break the ice. Literally, I did my Icebreaker speech, and I think one other, before deciding it was not for me, for various reasons mostly because of the authoritative vibe and the bureaucratic elements – but it definitely set me on this path to more and more public speaking, fear facing and getting my message out in person.
I won’t pretend I’ve overcome my fear of public speaking in two years – far from it – but it’s definitely lessened.
My one saving grace has been the preparation I can do before hand. I know I can craft my words in advance, often refer to cue cards or use a slideshow as a memory trigger – and an audience distraction – and above all I do my best to prepare myself to soothe my fear.
But then there’s Improv. The whole concept is removing the barriers we put up through our distracting slides, props and memorised speeches.
This was a whole new level of fear: and for whatever reason, it became my dragon to slay.
And trust me: I’ve delayed this for months and months now.
But then, speaking to a friend, and knowing I couldn’t choose another ‘easy’ activity from the jar of fun, I figured: let’s just bloody do it.
And we did.
Again, I used my ninja skill of accountability to get me to go: naturally if my friend bailed, I would certainly have bailed. Thank you Rachel for not bailing!
The next barrier of entry for me would have been distance: I’ve learned travelling somewhere too out of the way is going to reduce my likelihood of showing up. The one I went to was close, it’s in Hove and it’s called Iron Duke Improv for those in the area who might want to check it out.
It also had the added benefit of being in the back of a pub: which meant I could get some Dutch courage in before we began.
So… the big reveal… how was it?
Firstly, the people, as we learned from the Charleston mishap, make all the difference. These folk were lovely: warm, welcoming, encouraging – and bloody funny too.
So that helped.
The next best bit was how optional everything felt. Most of the exercises we did were voluntary, though not all – that said I strongly believe if I had been picked for an exercises I just didn’t want to do, I could probably have said ‘not meeee!’ and they would have been cool with it.
There were a few sweat inducing moments, as well as moments of pure genius: at least, I thought my shark attack was funny…
And even though there isn’t a massive emphasis on being funny – this seemed to be more improv theatre not improv comedy – I’m not sure if theres’ a real difference but it wasn’t like laughter was the goal – regardless, I found it super funny and spent a lot of the time giggling, which is always good.
Fun rating? 8/10
Yeah – that’s a high one.
I think there’s the added satisfaction – and OH how satisfying it is – to know I’ve done something that was so high on my fear list, and of course, like all of our biggest fears: is never as bad as we imagine.
In the words of Seneca, great Stoic philosopher: “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality”
Oh and another win: I finished my crochet bunny from last week!
Fun rating: 6/10
Next week’s fun activity is…
This is something I LOVED to do as a kid. Will reveal all next week!