The show has begun.
I love improvising for many reasons. Without a doubt, my life is better because of my improvisational experiences — I am a better friend, wife and mother because of them. I’ve learned so much about being flexible, open-minded, saying “yes!” to opportunities, taking risks and on and on. AND it is my extreme sport. I am probably never going to jump out of a plane or go spelunking or diving under wild conditions. Yet I’ve found the place where I can get an amazing adrenaline rush — stepping out onto the improv stage to create something from nothing.
The adrenaline balanced with the frame of the improv show creates this lovely state of mind and body. I am alert, aware, having ideas and inspirations and acting on them or holding back depending on what the show needs. While onstage, my brain and body are fully engaged in the storytelling moment, actively accepting and making offers with my fellow improvisors while juggling all my inner reactions and ideas.
Backstage (or in the wings, depending on our stage set up) a different version of this occurs. We are an improvisation company that strives for no backstage discussion. We want the creating to happen in front of the audience and engaged with them. ( We do always have a whiteboard backstage to keep track of audience suggestions, character names and important details as they arise. So sometimes when I’m backstage, I’m looking at the board to remind myself of those details.) While watching the onstage action, I may have 10 ideas or 100 or more AND as the scene continues my ideas must constantly change to incorporate what has happened. We never “know” when we are needed onstage so we have to be constantly available. I love it when a fellow performer points at me and walks onstage to start a scene. I don’t anything about their idea and off I go, trusting in the moment. At most someone might point and then whisper one word like “office” or “volcano” but then the rest takes place in public.
Backstage during a scene, I find myself watching and on my toes. Ready to go on if I’m needed and ready to stay off if I’m not. It can be quite a beautiful experience of flow…especially in a show that is going well. When I’m not needed onstage, I also get the thrill of enjoyment from watching the skill and talents of the other actors.
In our dress rehearsal for Secret Identity Crisis, there was a stunning experience of group mind backstage. The premise of this show is the life behind the mask in the world of superheroes. We had just reached the climactic scene and the main character was in the spotlight. Suddenly her mentor appeared on the stage and without a pause the rest of us disappeared backstage. Without a word to each other, we watched the scene between the two of them unfold in the main character’s inner world and then without a pause, all four other actors jumped back on stage and we were back in real time for the final battle moment. That to me was one of the powerful experiences I’ve had of group mind backstage.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Behind the Scenes week. If you’re interested in reading more about performing and other things from the improvisor’s perspectives, here are some recent blog posts by wonderful improvisors I know:
“The Circus Bow and other Lessons from the Big Top, Part 1 – Celebrating Failure” by Kat Koppett on the Improvisational Storyteller
“What the Audience Knows” by Rebecca Stockley on the Improv Lady
“Space Object Work in 2 Simple Rules” by Rich Cox on Improv Notebook