choosing joy

Celebrating Failure

In Improv, one of the things you learn really early on is to acknowledge and celebrate your failures. It’s part of the deal … there are times when a group of improvisors are doing something on the fly, and something goes terribly wrong. Or just becomes awkward. I think that’s part of why audiences love to watch improv. One of the things we do in class (and its encouraged) is acknowledge that moment of weirdness, when the action has stopped and the everyone is stuck. If a scene’s a stinker, we very gloriously put our hands above our head, give a jester’s bow and announce, “I FAILED!” And then, everyone claps.

Isn’t this the best thing ever? To just announce you’ve failed, and then, get this, you move on. That’s right, once you’ve acknowledged this little hiccup, you don’t look back. There’s no stopping to figure out “what went wrong,” no Monday morning quarterbacking, people don’t jump in and say “oh, I would have done this.” Nope, you shake off that little moment, and you’re up again in another scene. We move on because everyone has had a scene go south. No one is immune from weirdness. Instead of allowing the mind to start running over the the scene, again and again, or anyone diving into the depths of feeling sheepish, we just let it go.

I think that this is part of the magic of improv. Sure, you’re up there doing scenes without a script and with only one piece of input from the audience. Sure, anything could happen, and most anything does happen. The thing is, no one in that troupe should be looking to control the scene or judge what is going on. Instead, each of us is up there listening, reacting, in real time. What we hear and see with our other improvisors moves the scene along. And we have to be open and ready for any suggestion, from anyone on the stage, at any moment.

With this kind of risk, you could open yourself up to a lot of potential self judgment. The ego really wants to judge everything you do up there. It would be easy to say “oh, I should have been a dog in that scene,” or “I should have figured out that Bob wanted me to be a fairy princess” or worse, “wouldn’t it be funny if I pretend to be dead next?” But when you do that, especially on the stage, you stop your mind from listening to your other players, and you lose your place. Literally, you lose your place in the story. And that’s when the whole troupe finds itself in trouble; when someone has stopped to judge themselves or is thinking of ways to control the scene, and is not listening. More than likely, that group is about ready for an epic fail.

I love improv because it teaches a lot of important life lessons. It reminds me to be present in the moment, it teaches me the importance of listening to others around me, and it tells me again and again that failure is just fine. And more than that, we need to just let go of any weird feelings about failing in life and be kind to ourselves, giving ourselves credit for the risks we take. It’s too easy to be hard on ourselves for our decisions or our actions, day to day. Anymore, I try very hard to acknowledge that I failed at something, get my butt back up on life’s stage, and try really hard to do it better the next time.