Hey it’s me Mark!
Let me tell you a story…
Improvisers create scenes to tell stories. Stories need drama. Drama can’t happen without vulnerability. This is why Superman is frequently criticized as a story. Superman is invulnerable. He can beat anyone. In order to make things even remotely interesting, his enemies must be as powerful as he is. But this means that his enemies are invulnerable as well. This kills the drama. Neither are vulnerable to harm. So all that ends of up happening is people punching each other until they get bored and stop.
In improv we need vulnerability, both as characters and as improvisers.
As improvisers, we need to come to each scene with a sense of vulnerability. When someone gives us an offer, we must allow that offer to change us, to effect us. If your son in the scene tells you he hates you, your character must have some emotional reaction to that. If you don’t, it’s a denial. Sure, we all have moments when we come into a scene as Superman and offers bounce off of us like bullets.
“I’m having an affair.”
“You aren’t my son.”
“I guess that don’t need to clean my room then.”
Stop ignoring these offers! You scene partner is giving you a gift. Accept it.
Most often, I find that I give offers like these because I want to get some emotional reaction out of that character. It usually happens because I don’t feel like I’m being listened to. Failing to be vulnerable to an offer is the same thing as not listening. So let offers hurt you, or fill you with joy, or make you nervous, or whatever. Just let them effect you.
As a child, I was very emotional. I’d get angry. I’d throw tantrums. People would just make me so mad. I’d get furious with them and hold up my tiny fist and threaten them, slowly extending my middle knuckle in what I thought would be a very painful way to get punched (because it had a little knuckle poking out…whatever…it made sense to me).
But the thing was, I was five years old and adorable. So usually my threats sent everyone into gales of laughter.
I was ridiculous, and I felt ridiculous. So for the next twenty years of my life, I built up a wall around my heart. I fortified my emotional defenses and brought my emotions under my control. Or at least, that’s what I thought I was doing. What I was really doing was deadening myself so that no one could hurt me anymore.
In high school and college, I tried very hard to be “cool.” Looking back, I realize what being cool actually is. It’s being cold, but with more nonchalance.
Because here is the truth that it took me so long to figure out: It’s okay to have emotions.
It may sound like I was a robot before, but it was more like I was Spock. In fact, Spock is kind of an interesting example to look at. Here we have this character whose emotional detachment is presented as some great strength. He’s placed up against Kirk, whose emotions seem to get the best of him a lot of the time and lead him to do foolish things. (Or at least this is how their dynamic always appeared to me…interesting…) So we see these two next to each other and discover that the best way to be is emotionally detached.
But this cuts us off from a simple fact about being human: humans have emotions. And the thing that I really didn’t get? We’re supposed to.
We’re emotional creatures. Our emotions are good. Even if they aren’t reasonable, they’re valid.
So let yourself feel things. Don’t just dismiss those feelings as wrong, or silly, or dumb. And if you can’t do that for yourself, at least do it for others. Let your wife cry or be angry without trying to talk her out of it. Allow your child to be sad, or happy, or angry, or confused, and trust that they will know what to do with those feelings. They will. It may take some time, but they will.
Emotions are offers. Don’t deny them.