Today I dug through the files on my computer in an attempt to dig myself out of the mess I have created.
I stumbled upon a completely forgotten folder on the backup hard drive that contained videos from 2016 I never bothered to look at before. I literally just saw them for the first time.
In spite of the novelty, I was not all that excited. I was about to just file them away into the archive (translation: the hard drive I never open that contains folders of stuff I never look at but am too scared to trash).
Just when I was about to send them to the nether regions, I watched a short clip that immediately transported me back in time to a brief, but notable winning moment in my personal improv journey.
This video exposes a simple technique that you can use to free yourself from freezing on stage or being captured and held hostage by stage fright created by your frantically spinning out of control brain.
This is an example of a “Being Changeable” moment and potentially a good exercise for class.
A little background first:
The video is from a big performing arts showcase competition and auditioning trade show I entered in 2016 in Orlando, Florida. There were many different categories you could enter, and being a glutton for punishment, I entered as many as possible.
…So that I would be thoroughly overwhelmed and frazzled every day for a week.
This particular category was called “Redirect.”
What Redirect means is that they give you a short monologue a moment or two before you get onstage, and then you recite the monologue one time and they give you an instant suggestion to alter the way you read it and you have to immediately do it the way they suggested, or “redirected” you.
First off, redirection makes people nervous even if you get to read off the page. Having to memorize it makes it that much more nerve-wracking.
You have just enough time to memorize it if you are either intensely focused, or you have a photographic memory.
I don’t have the latter skill, which my wife routinely points out in not-so-subtle ways.
…So that left me only with the former option.
Another challenge with this particular contest is that they only used a limited number of monologues, so every three or four people would have the same one, which would otherwise be inconsequential, except for the fact that there were a few hundred people in this contest.
Can you imagine being a judge at this cattle call?!
You would see the same monologue a hundred times! How insanely boring!
My guess is that most actors did the monologue pretty much the same as everyone else (the expected way that the writer likely intended) and then when the auditioner told the actor to change it up, they only altered their voice a little and even then it probably still sounded like the 14 other guys who did it earlier in the hour.
Since my last name starts with an ‘S’ I was near the end of the alphabetical lineup. I saw the other Randolph’s, Smith’s, Thompson’s around me getting VERY uncomfortable as they quickly realized that all the “good ways” of interpreting the monologue had been played out and it was leaving them with fewer and fewer options.
Those darn people whose last names are Adams, Barnaby, or Cox!!!
I can just see the picket lines of the “Names Starting With Letters After The Letter M Union” as we organize a mass revolt on the parliament.
You could cut the tension with a knife!
A very sharp one.
Dull ones would just mark up the air and you’d end up cutting your finger.
This place was TENSE I tell you!
Knowing how powerful improv training can be, I decide to fall back on a basic concept: I would come up with a totally new and unexpected way of performing the initial monologue, which would make me stand out and give me nearly unlimited ways to play the scene and then free me up to have even more options in the redirect.
How on Earth would that be possible, considering the monologue was already tired out before the hat got passed to me?
By remembering to play the scene while looking in the rear view mirror!
In other words, what has to have happened in order for what is currently happening to be true?
If this is true, what else needs to be or could be true?
What happened the moment before?
The second I got my monologue I recognized it enough to help get intensely aware of each and every word. Rather than go crazy over the words, I just launched my imagination with those powerful questions and sparks of creativity began to fire off the synapsis in my brain.
Did I come up with the perfect interpretation??
No! Maybe! Yes! Who knows? Who even cares!
What matters is that what I did was completely and totally ORIGINAL. It was mine and I owned it and it was very very present and based on a mood, character, feeling, and motivation that I created (not copied) based on what I thought my character was going through right before the scene with my monologue.
I had the entire audience on the edge of their seat. Nobody had done the monologue in such a unique (and yes, rather strange) way.
The judges took notice and scribbled with their pens!
Then, when they gave me the redirect, my mind was already freely firing on all cylinders and I was NOT thinking about anything other than the moment and the possibilities. I was NOT worried about how I looked, or whether I wore the right shirt that day, or whether the other people might copy me or if I sounded like another actor who had gone before me.
NONE of that mattered.
I was in the ZONE!
The Zen Tao of Comedy, Man!
It was like a Bruce Lee Powerful One-Inch-Punch Improv Mastery Moment!
And the cool thing was that I created it with just a simple question or two.
The power of powerful questions!
…And you can do the same.
Now, what do these questions about the moment before, the rear-view mirror, and what else or what might be true have to do with being changeable?
Well, these good questions give you good answers. They allow you better jumping off points, and they activate the creative process that makes even better questions and even better answers to spring up at a faster and faster rate.
In other words, they help change your state.
And by changing your state into one that is more receptive, you become more flexible and faster at accepting change.
Once you are better able to accept the fact that change will happen, you begin to embrace the change.
Once you are in a habitual pattern of change-embracing, you can pivot at lightning speed.
Once you are able to change at lightning speed, we can truly say you have become “changeable”.
All that is well and good, but how does being changeable help you to overcome stage fright and avoid freezing or clamming up, right when you most need to be on?
Well, that’s the terrific thing about being changeable. It is like being a chameleon that can quickly change color to match its surroundings. Freezing on stage is a debilitating feeling that comes straight from a sense of self-consciousness and too much focus on yourself!
At the moment, you feel like you are thinking of “everything else,” and all the possibilities of what others might do or think, but in reality, this all comes from a place of fear of looking foolish in front of your peers. This is one of the biggest fears, if not the biggest fears known to mankind.
Being changeable is like an incredible mutation or adaptation to adjust to the stress of your environment. If you can do that, you can experiment more and embrace courage. You see if you are afraid to experiment you never do much because of the fear of the failure. The trouble with living a life like that is that it is impossible to be happy since the only way you advance is through experimentation, and the only way to be happy is to be learning, growing, contributing, and advancing.
If you are free to experiment without being terrorized by the results, you can detach yourself just a little and simply make a note of the results so you can improve next time. It is like failing forward. Chances are, a lot of your choices will be failures. The more you make (assuming you are learning a lot from them), the faster you can progress, thereby growing not just as a performer, but also as a human being by getting more comfortable in your own skin.
You can now walk on stage and know that you have infinite possibilities to adapt and overcome and change whenever you need to, no matter what someone throws at you, or what they offer you.
Therefore, being changeable can free you from freezing on stage…
…Even if they tell you to do it like a professional wrestler.
Do you have a changeable moment that you’d like to share? How about a question about what it means to “look in the rear view mirror”? Leave your questions and insights in the comments below.