Over the past six years that I have been performing in the Richmond area, I’ve had several people ask me how it is that I got into this absurd (and I use that term in an appreciative way) art.
I’ve been improvising for 15 years, give or take. Didn’t really get deeply into it until the winter of 2007, where I went to an 8-week workshop at ComedySportz Richmond, and joined the main roster of performers shortly thereafter.
That’s pretty much it. That’s my how. Cut and dry.
I think the bigger, more soul-fulfilling question, would be why I got into it.
Everyone’s motivation for going to an improv class, or joining a troupe, or whatever, are as varied as the color spectrum. Some improv to improve their public speaking. Some, because they’re funny, and like being around funny people. Some, they just think it’d be a fun way to spend a night a week.
For me, though, what has become a great passion of mine started out as a strategy to gain confidence.
Not more confidence. Confidence, period.
Starting at the age of 10, give or take, I became stricken with extremely low self-esteem. In my mind, everything I attempted was doomed to fail. The successes I had, I attributed to outside factors. I never felt like I deserved credit for anything good, but everything bad was a result of some decision I made, some action I acted upon.
I hated myself.
Theater became my shining beacon when I reached high school. Not so much the idea of obtaining glory and fame, as much as the idea that I could disappear on the stage, be someone else, someone who wasn’t me. A role wasn’t a role, it was an alias, a disguise I could place over myself so the audience wouldn’t see just how terrible I was as a person.
I convinced myself that this was building confidence. That my self-esteem was rising every time I stepped onto the stage.
Really, it was hiding. Attempting to sweep the loathing I had for myself under the rug, to be worried about at some other time.
This tactic worked, to an extent. It worked for around 8 years.
But then the opportunities to be on stage stopped in college, due to grades slipping. With that lack of outlet, that lack of asylum, the crushing blows came back, tenfold. They never disappeared, they just waited, gaining power.
That power overwhelmed, and I found myself out of college in December of 2005.
There was time spent working in a job I came to despise. There was more stage time, thanks to a theater group I auditioned for in the winter of 2006. And as grateful as I was for finding these new and brilliant people, the self-hatred continued.
I convinced myself I was never good enough. Not good-looking. Not a good actor. Not not not not not….
The time came for a change of atmosphere. And that’s how I found myself in Richmond. And how I found myself finally enrolled in an improv class.
One of the first lessons, one of the biggest lessons, took me by surprise: Don’t be afraid to fail.
Don’t be afraid? I had spent the last decade pretty much scared to death of failing. So scared that I barely attempted anything that could prove to be a failure. Classes, work, girls, etc… It was all off the table.
But there was that lesson. Don’t be afraid. There’s no need to be afraid because those around you in the scene will help you, support you, keep you afloat in the tsunami of judgment going on inside my head.
This idea was foreign. Here I was, a guy who had convinced himself that I was a failure as a human being, and I was being told that it’s alright to fail? That instead of judging me, there would be people who had my back, who wanted to make me look good?
What the hell is that?
I resisted initially. Tried to prove that I belonged. That I was funny and people should like me because I was funny and oh hey look at me I’m funny and not at all telling myself that I’m a fraud and don’t deserve the attention I’m getting.
But then I failed. And nothing happened.
The scene went astray, went off the rails. But there was no yelling. No judgment of my capabilities. Just an, “Alright, let’s try it again,” and back to business.
I could fail. And instead of cursing at the failure, the opportunity for learning was brought forth.
And that’s when I began to grow. To slowly, so slowly, realize that by hiding myself on the stage, I was preventing growth. Stagnating the potential for the self-esteem to rise.
The improv continued. I got better at it. I got better with myself.
Now, here, in 2013, I find myself still playing, still performing. But no longer do I feel like I’m hiding from myself. Instead of feeling anxiety before stepping onto the stage, I feel a sense of joy and calm all rolled together.
I’m going to perform. And if I fail, it’s okay. I have people there to support me, or fail with me in a grand spectacle.
There are times when I still feel the self-esteem come to a crashing low. But I know those times are temporary, and that I will eventually find myself being once more at ease, and confident in my actions. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________
Zach is the Assistant Artistic Director of ComedySportz Richmond, and has been playing with us since 2006. Follow his blog at insertfunnyhere.