I recently attended a weeklong improv intensive class offered through TheatreSquared in Fayetteville taught by Jordan Haynes.
First of all, Jordan is brilliant. He’s a gifted improviser who will absolutely make you snort laugh. Second, the new TheatreSquared building is stunning. We are incredibly fortunate to have a professional live theater experience of this caliber right in our backyard.
Class for the “adults” met every night while the “kids” met during the afternoons. On Friday evening we each did an hour-long showcase performance followed by an all-play (adults and kids) couple of games. It was, in the words of an audience member, “scary brilliant.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
A bit of backstory. The adult classes are open to all levels of improvisers — from the I’ve-never-done-this-before to those who perform regularly in multiple troupes. (Lots of improvisers belong to more than one troupe. It’s kind of a thing). You might think having all these skill levels together would be awkward, but it wasn’t at all. Actually, it was a hoot. Humor, as it turns out, is the great equalizer.
On Friday evening during the kids showcase performance, an adult class participant sitting next to me — perched on the very edge of his seat, staring at the stage wide-eyed in a complete state of awe — quietly said, “Man, they’re so much better than us.” And he was not entirely wrong. Somewhere in my soul, I felt a pang of despair.
The kids bounded onto the stage — exuberant, creative, funny and uniquely themselves. Their scenes were interesting and thoughtful and collaborative. They looked like they were having the best time ever. They were fearless.
The adults? Well, in all fairness, I’d say we held our own. I’d also add the words slightly less in front of any descriptor I used for the kids: slightly less exuberant, slightly less creative, slightly less funny. It’s not that we weren’t fantastic too. It’s just that we were … less so.
You would think that as we age with grace and wisdom and in the sureness of who we are that we’d rule the stage. It should be a “watch-me-roar!” kind of vibe. But it wasn’t. While all the kids were giddy with stage presence, I noticed some of the adults trying not to panic. Or worse, throw up. There’s a lesson here.
Which got me thinking: When did we, as adults, stop being fearless? When did we stop believing we weren’t creative — or creative enough? When did we decide it was better to blend into the backline rather than to rush to center stage? When did we become unwilling to put ourselves out there — really out there? At what age did we start to care more about what others thought of us and less about what we thought of ourselves? And when did we stop channeling the hokey-pokey where “you put your whole self in and you shake it all about”?
Lest you think this was merely an isolated improv moment, I can assure you it was not. This experience echoed what I routinely hear from professional adults who are stifling some piece of their core being. Afraid of being who they want to be, afraid to take the job they really want, afraid to say what they truly think, afraid to feel alive in a way that matters most to them. Afraid to take — metaphorically — center stage.
We need to come back to ourselves. If you’re not standing in the middle of the stage shouting proudly for all to hear, “Customer No. 4!” (that was in a scene we did — and it was spot on), then I’m giving you permission to “put your whole self in and shake it all about.”
Cue the music.
Ancora Imparo … (Still, I am learning)
Editor’s note: Stacey Mason is the founder of The Improv Lab, a professional development business in Bentonville. More information is available at TheImprovLab.com or by calling 479-877-0131. The opinions expressed are those of the author.