I used to hate improvising. It always scared me. The first time I was aware of this was the evening the black and white photograph above was taken. That’s me on the left. I’m nine years old. My family used to rent a cottage on Camel Lake, in Canada. Each summer holiday I used to get together with other cottage kids to create ‘entertainment evenings’ for the cottage parents. We used to prepare songs and dances and little plays. In the picture I am dressed up as a man miming to a song called “Delicious” Pretty dire! Our shows were well rehearsed, however. We knew exactly what we were doing and when we were doing it.
One evening we had a new member, Diane, join the group. The final number was some song about Cowboys and Indians. It was going very well until Diane started running around the audience, brandishing a shoe as a tomahawk. We joined in. I was the last and I was very reluctant. There was no plan! No script! Just us yelping and hooting and hollering. This improvising was terrible for me and I thought most unentertaining for the audience. A clothes line got involved and half of us got tied to a stake (the chair I’m sitting on in the picture served as the stake). Some kids were pretending to be fire. We all went up in smoke. We took our bow.
On the way home I remember asking my Mum which bit she liked the best. She said, “The final number!” “No Mum, that was the terrible bit! We hadn’t even planned that.” I didn’t believe her. I figured she was just being kind. It took me many, many years before I changed that fear of improvising. In fact, it really only happened about 4 years ago, when I began to do clowning with Vivian Gladwell of Nose of Nose.
And the reason is that in this kind of clowning, you get to be yourself with all your feelings. And no plans . And you don’t have to be funny or clever. Things just happen, much to everyone’s surprise and delight. You simply go with what happens, play and have fun with it. You are seen, appreciated and celebrated for being yourself. Improvising can be much less scary than you may think!