Four years ago I didn’t know what improv comedy was. I understood the terms improvised and comedy but I didn’t know what it looked like or why a person would do it. Fast forward to mid 2016 and I am an active member of ‘Imaginary Friends’, an improv group founded by then boyf, now husband, Joe. When it began, he recruited friends from his uni days, many of whom had performed in student theatre. They started practicing these games and putting on occasional shows at a local pub. I helped in my own way by collecting the £3 fee (from our very dedicated friends) to get into the shows. Over time, folk moved away or didn’t have the time to devote to prancing about in a room
pretending to be Catman at a volcano’s edge, a lion with self esteem issues or a plum.
The improv died. Last year it was resurrected with some new blood. In my wildest dreams I had entertained the notion of joining in, but was deterred by my own lion issues, but also not wanting to attach myself to every aspect of my husband’s extra curricular life. It took a lot of encouragement to finally take the plunge. Mind you, eventually it was pretty difficult not to be involved since the sessions were often happening in our living room.
For the first practice I chose my clothes so carefully, did proper makeup, I was becoming increasingly nervous all day. These people - the Imaginary Friends - were already my actual friends but I still had to concentrate on looking like
I was playing it reeeeaaal cool
by the time they arrived to play improv games. I was terrified. Unnaturally and disproportionately terrified. Now a practice is something I look forward to and never prepare for, I don’t worry about how I look or what happens in the practice, I just enjoy hanging with my pals.
With improv performances I have to allow myself to fail, to relinquish control. I don’t like that. I hate failing and looking stupid (doesn’t everyone?), I need to be a team player and go along with the ideas presented, whether I like them or not. I suppose I don’t often have to deal with that. Usually I am working on my own, at my own pace, to my own rules and caprices. Sure, clients can surprise me or a job takes a lot longer than it should, but it gets done inside a framework I have some measure of control over.
I find improv tough. Every single time we perform I get myself into a bit of a fankle and say things to myself like
“I’m just not feeling it”
or “I’m not ready”. It’s never easy, despite our brave exteriors. We performed this month as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival and it was our most popular show. I actually lay down for five minutes before I left the house, just to try and quell the nerves, but after that first laugh I got from the audience (yes, it’s cliché) I started to enjoy myself. The audience is on our side. They’re our pals! There’s something about performing that allows for bigger risk taking and heightened creativity. That night I was Guy Fawkes on a dating show, I was an ancient Egyptian God buying sandals and an alien who had to come out to their friend after 32 years.
The fear of being out of control is the most powerful barrier to enjoying improv – but with a lot of other aspects of my life too. However it’s also that lack of control that creates the sassy new characters, wacky situations and amps up the creativity of the whole team. It’s taken me the longest time to realise that’s on me. It’s a job for each one of us. I will probably always be afraid of failure and I’ll almost certainly never stop worrying about being judged, but I realise more and more it doesn’t matter. It’s within my power to recognise it’s just my own perception and that it can change. It’s on me. I can be a hilarious sexy spacehopper or whatever I want. The great thing about improv? If it’s not funny, there’ll be another topic coming along in a minute.
Follow Imaginary Friends on Twitter here or have a look at the Facebook page.