This past weekend The Utility Players participated in the 10th annual San Francisco Improv Festival. Amazing does not aptly describe this weekend of improv jamming, watching master improvisers take to the stage, and all the lessons I took away from the experience. One lesson in particular has had a great impact on me; at a workshop we attended, we were asked to step into the middle of a circle and proudly proclaim "I Failed!". We were then met with cheering, clapping, and supportive affirmations. I have never witnessed so many individuals, and actors at that, openly admit that they had failed at something.
Typically, we do everything within our power to disassociate with failure. As part of our personal prehistory and cultural mythology, failure has become a dreaded state of being. As opposed to being able to admit a mistake, a label of "being" is attached to our identity. It is no longer "I failed in this one instance." Instead, we become "failures". And yet, I see an endless parade of memes stating how our greatest failures can be our greatest opportunities for growth and personal development. So why do we run from failure?
I have seen actors, when given notes, compete in a rousing game of mental gymnastics, talking their way out of personal responsibility and ownership. "It was the lights, the crowd, everyone else on stage, Mercury in retrograde, etc." As if admitting failure tarnishes and diminishes their skills or talents. What would our shows look like - and our lives for that matter - if when somebody failed, they shouted with jubilation, "I FAILED", and were met with sincere support and congratulations? I can say that it was definitely easier to step into that circle and admit my own shortcomings when others had bravely acknowledged their's first.
So, I am going to spend less time saving face by rationalizing and justifying my failures, and spend more time simply admitting "I failed," and use all that left-over energy on learning and improving for the future.
I hadn’t been that nervous for a long time.
Was the audience larger than in previous shows? No. Was there a lot riding on the gig? Not necessarily. Had I just foolishly eaten a large burger and some ice cream an hour before lights up? Yes. But the energy that flowed through my body and seemingly invaded my stomach was strong and would be present even without the uncomfortable digestion.
This gig was different.
The crowd was full of people who knew improv. This was truly a jury of one’s own peers. I felt like a fraud. I was afraid the first thing to come out of my mouth would be a block, or that I wouldn’t eat the cheese enough, or that I wouldn’t commit fully to a character. It would be like teaching a course on acting in front of an audience made up entirely of Meryl Streeps.
But then, standing in our Utility Player line as the Emcee introduced us, I lightly hugged Derek, our master keyboardist, and grabbed the shoulders of Chris, our master ginger, and it was like any other show. I was with my family and we were just gonna play for a half hour.
And we did.
We created conflict. We changed the location of a scene before the audience knew what was happening. We stopped time in Tokyo and we Parkoured. We made mistakes. And we left ‘em laughing.
AND WE’LL LEAVE YOU LAUGHING EVERY SATURDAY NIGHT STARTING SEPTEMBER 27TH AT JESTER’S THEATER AT THE SANDS REGENCY!
Sorry. Had to do it.
The Utility Players, Reno's #1 Improv Comedy Troupe, take the stage at The San Francisco Improv Festival on September 14th.
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