The Art of Failing Good-Naturedly
Improv. Improvisation. The art of thinking quickly on your feet, while simultaneously balancing cutting wit and humor.
I never thought in a million years I would take an Improv class. Whenever I’d watch sketch or comedy shows, I always admired the actors for their effortless humor. They seemed so at ease with surprising spontaneity: everything they did or said produced side-splitting laughter from the live audiences.
This past quarter, a friend recommended I take an improv course at Berkeley Rep’s School of Theatre. Within minutes, I was sold and enrolled in the class. (Most likely the least thought out decision of my life, as well as the best.) Little did I know that spending 10 weeks in the class would teach me so much about life. Or to be a better person. It’s honestly improved my quality of life.
As a performer, my initial inclination is to better myself. I pick myself apart to examine the nooks and crannies of my performances; I naturally critique the heck out of everything I do. I’m afraid of failing. So much so, that I work like hell to prevent that from happening. In Improv, you’re encouraged to fail.
As a Type B Personality, I struggled wrapping my head around the exercises Diane set up for us to do. Every single time we’d mess up in a theatre game, scene, dialogue, ANYTHING, we would step into the middle of the room to throw our hands up and say “I FAILED!” as loudly as possible before taking a little bow. The class would then clap for us and cheer.
I found that with practice, anything can become second nature. Every time I did my little bow, I’d cringe a little less inside, I’d make sillier bows, crazier voices. Over time, I found myself welcoming mistakes. I no longer would berate myself every time I’d fail. I began to see that without said mistakes, I wouldn’t be able to grow as an artist and really test my limits. My cousin and fellow actor, Josef, shared a brilliant quote by Thomas J. Watson – the CEO of IBM, which summarized this lesson perfectly: “If you want to succeed, double failure rate.”
Embrace failure; fail willingly and good-naturedly.
Mistakes force one to test waters inconsequentially, nudging one’s creativity to new levels and layers. I found myself doing something silly and laughing at myself heartily every time I came to class. I began testing boundaries which I saw were created only in my mind. This simple task which will change your world, I promise you.
In Improv, I found once I began to embrace the risks and insecurities which would bubble up inside, the opportunities were endless. I used mere ideas and random associations to spring off into the unknown, focusing on my instincts to drive me (and my partners) to our destination points. Failing led me to a new world of infinite possibilities, allowing me to bloom into a quiet confidence. I was finally allowing myself to trust in my talents.
“It’s alright to be alright.”
While Improv, just like life, requires an extreme amount of faith and trust, it makes no headway without commitment. Another lesson Improv has taught me is this: take your first thought and run like hell with it. In Improv, craziness is king. The more instinctual, the more outlandish, the better. To balance the crazy, one has to have a lot of discipline. Instincts require intense commitment.
Some of the most amazing performers I’ve seen are ones whose commitment levels are out of this world. They commit even to the smallest of cameos, making them memorable in a scene where they would be otherwise overlooked. They are also the same performers who continue to make clear choices in their work. These performers are the same ones who welcome failure with open arms, facing risk head on, and they are still the same performers who soar high over the cliff they have just jumped from.
Apply these same principles to your daily life: Fail good naturedly. Make a fool out of yourself. Do one thing a day that scares you. I promise you, you won’t regret it. Instead, you might be pleasantly surprised at the person that comes out of these experiences. Happy Failing!
Administrator note: You can follow Nishea Andolong on Twitter – Follow @landielong