When I took my first improv class -- I was living in Baltimore and I gave it to myself as a birthday present -- I would experience some very intense social phobia. It was a welcoming class, a safe space, and expertly run by the wonderful Dave LaSalle of the Baltimore Improv Group, but I am a shy, introverted doof by nature, and I was hella uncomfortable with being asked to perform -- in any way -- in front of others, even a supportive group of classmates.
I would tell myself, in the midst of a mirroring exercise, You are going to finish this class, you are going to exit class, and you never, ever have to come back to class.
But after class, and over the course of the week, my confidence built back up, and my curiosity. I was back in class and I was telling myself, Just have fun in class, it's not like you ever have to go on stage and perform.
Well. Not only did I finish my Baltimore classes, but I took more, and I took some in San Diego. And I wound up going on stage. It was easy, because I found a few partners who were interested in playing the way I wanted to play (with patience, with vulnerability, honestly).
What I noticed then about going in front of an audience, and what I noticed this month when Coincidence put our show up in front of a Cincinnati audience for the first time, is that, in the moment, it's not about the audience for me. I'm up there with my improv partners and my scene partners, just like I was in class in Baltimore. That's not to say the audience doesn't matter -- laughter, rapt silence, shouts of surprise are wonderful reminders that Yes, you are doing it right! -- but what I mean to say is, I don't get nervous about going out in front of an audience when I have my partners with me. I'm up there connecting with them more than I'm performing for an audience.
If we make that connection, magic will happen. If magic happens, the audience will be entertained.
The secret to improv? Find people you love and play with them as much as you can. That's the secret to life, too.