What takes you out of a scene?
I asked myself this question the other day. I wondered, what causes me to lose presence where some part of me is no longer aware of what’s happening in the moment. One of my improv teachers called it “leaving the room”.
I’m doing it wrong. That was the first thing that came to me. Whenever I think I’m doing something wrong, I scare myself and retreat in some way.
They’re doing it wrong. When I judge by scene partner missed some rule or made some improv faux pas I again get scared and lose a moment, or many moments of presence.
I need to do it right. Ah, yes. If only I could do it exactly right then I’ll never do it wrong and the above scenarios won’t happen. Intellectually, I can giggle at the absurdity of this and yet, unconsciously, I do it frequently!
I don’t know about you, but this right/wrong story has been running my life for as far back as I can remember and not just in improv scenes. The beauty of improv is that we set a new context beyond the story of right and wrong. We say, “there’s no way to do this wrong”. Of course our brains laugh and we secretly try to do it right anyway. Which is why I enjoy purposely playing it out “wrong” first, just so our brains see that even if we do it “wrong”, it’s okay.
So the next question isn’t, “How do I always stay present in my scene?” Ha! No way, forget it. I drift off trying to think of a clever thing to say, or remember what just happened so I can make a neat connection. Or I wish I hadn’t just said that thing I just said. The real question is,
How do I reliably get back into the scene? When I noticed I’ve “left the room”, what can I do to reenter with ease?
Notice my body, a sensation or feeling. This is the number one way I get back to NOW. My body is always experiencing in the present moment so I join it by noticing something happening in my body. Often I’ll simply feel my feet on the floor.
Look at my partner, make eye contact. When I take in something about what my scene partner is doing or how they are standing or their facial expression, I bring myself back to the present and connect with them.
Interact with space. In improv we call this “object work”: Interacting with some imaginary object in space. It’s funny because the object isn’t actually “here” and yet all of your focus must be on that space at that time in order to truly interact with it. This one took me some time, but has become a reliable way for me to ground myself in my scene.
When I do these things, something magical happens… I find my inspiration, because inspiration is in the moment.
Improv is not about being clever, knowledgeable or quick-witted, it’s about being HERE.
And it’s a damn fun way to practice being here if you ask me. Let’s practice together.
I would love for you to join me this October 8, 15, 22, and 29th for an improv course in West Seattle. We will meet from 7-9pm at the Fauntleroy Schoolhouse near the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal. RSVP today!
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” -Rumi