Bring a brick

A few years ago in an improv class I was asked if there was a specific skill I wanted to work on. I said I wanted to get move involved, to be more committed as I had a lifelong habit of holding back and editing myself.

The teacher was Jules Munns and he looked me straight in the eye and said “Alex, I want you to MOVE YOUR FEET EVERY SINGLE SECOND THROUGHOUT THIS ENTIRE CLASS. If your feet are not moving for so much as a single heartbeat you’re in trouble. You got it?”

Jules knew I needed a hefty push. So that’s what I did. Whatever was happening in the class, there I was jigging my feet, shuffling on the spot. It felt strange but it worked a curious magic on me. I found myself jumping into scenes with much more commitment, even when I only had only half a shit idea (to quote Katy Schutte).

I found myself jumping into scenes with much more commitment.”

The inner editor in my head went quiet (usually pretty vocal back then) but I didn’t really notice until afterwards. I was too busy following my feet and jumping into the fray.

Later in the class, I was in the audience watching another group performing on stage (feet still jigging all the while).  The usual audience protocols applied: they do stuff – you sit and watch. But this time something else happened.

With my feet jigging away, I saw something happening on stage and I wanted to join in. And before I had time to stop myself (my usual habit) I leapt out of my seat and onto the stage to get involved.

The players on stage were talking about building a house and I laid down on the floor in front of them offering myself as a brick in the foundations of a house. Somehow they understood my offer and built a house on top of me with a wall of human bricks (a lovely example of acceptance and cooperation).

A few moments later the scene moved on, the wall disbanded and I and headed back to my seat. Pulse racing. Head spinning.

What had just happened? Was that me that just jumped into the action? Was that me that leapt out of a comfy seat in the audience? Me the olympic-level overthinker, me with the whole bagful of the self-limiting beliefs?

This moment came as a total surprise. I had done something totally spontaneous before I realised I was doing it. Before my habitual inner editor kicked in. There wasn’t any filtering, screening or judging. Just commitment.

“This moment came as a total surprise. I had done something totally spontaneous before I realised I was doing it.”

And nothing bad happened. I don’t think anyone especially noticed, but something shifted in me that day. I realised that in the right situation, like an improv class, it can be OK to totally trust yourself, and follow an impulse.

The funny thing (at least for me) is that there’s a famous Del Close (improv guru) quote about improvisation along the lines of “Don’t bring a cathedral into a scene. Bring a brick – let’s build together.”

I’m pretty sure Del Close was talking about collaborating one idea at a time to make something bigger than any of us, but for one brief moment I actually was the brick that I brought. And they built on top of me. And I survived. And then I went back to my seat.

It might seem small, trivial even, but it left a mark on me and since then I’ve been more willing to jump into the moment and to trust my instincts. The aliveness I felt in that moment has spurred me on to back to that place of courage time and again. It’s what stepping out to improvise does for you.

That doesn’t mean I follow every impulse, or that I get it right every time. But when I know I’m listening as deeply as I can and I feel something needs to be said or done, and it’s in my power to act, then I’m much more likely to.

One recent example of this happened when I travelled across the country to take part in a day-long improv workshop and the teacher (who knows me well) had to step back just minutes before it started. So I stepped up and said ‘OK, I’d be up for running the class!” and he said “Yes, that’s it.” So that’s what I did.

Thanks Jules for pushing me.

Photo by Henry Perks on Unsplash

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