Want to Change the World? Just Show Up.

paul quote from oprah

It’s so dastardly simple that it’s also a bit hard to accept as an answer. But so much of what we need to do in life can be boiled down to just showing up. Bringing all of your attention, heart, and body into the space where you’re working. Relationships, presentations, acts of service would all be radically different if people just vowed to do this one act. 

This is just one of the many skills that I’ve learned from my Introduction to Improvisational Theatre course (TAPS103) at Stanford. I’ve organized and outlined some other key learnings that I plan to use on and off the stage!

IMPROV taught me to be comfortable with failure, dance around the room with it until it became a second skin. Get so good at our routine, other people start getting…confused…envious? Is she good at being bad or…bad at being good?! They would throw their hands up in puzzlement and join me anyway. They would applaud my creativity and enjoy living vicariously through my risky adventures. Maybe they’d even learn to be a bit more comfortable with their shortcomings too.

IMPROV taught me to be intentional with every word and action. To only do something if I was willing to commit. And to be willing to commit to anything that served the scene. I moved my hands through air until landing on a table that I would define. I molded both hands around a mug that billowed invisible steam I could enjoy. I summoned sudden feelings of nervousness, excitement, and rage to push these worlds just a little bit further.

IMPROV taught me to be on time. That showing support for my partners is to respect their time and my own. That I should thank each one at the end of a scene for their brilliance and presence. That to share the stage with anyone is an opportunity to celebrate them. That I should make more of these opportunities.

IMPROV taught me to say what I need to say and nothing more. To find solace in the silence. To see these pockets as refuge for resting. To feel the power in the pauses and get a sense for when to take up more or less space.

IMPROV taught me to treat mistakes as gifts. To find delight in these moments. To realize that life is so much more worth living when I see things in this way. That I am nicer to myself and to others. That I recognize fewer things as mistakes in the first place. That many of us start out this way as children and tend to forget them as we get older.

IMPROV taught me that improv does not have to be funny. It is the skill of creating and exploring new worlds with our minds. It is the skill of getting an audience to buy into this reality by adorning it with elaborate detail. It is the very manifestation of bravery. It is the very definition of resilience. It is the very act of *shoulder shrug* “…uhhh, let’s just see where this goes.”

IMPROV taught me to take offers and make offers. Endow myself with a chance to be an expert at anything. To try-on space object costumes that I didn’t think were my size. Speak in accents that I’d never heard before. Create handshakes and life mottos with other people as though we’d known them (and even each other) our whole lives.

IMPROV taught me to lean into my fear. To not allow anything to hold my tongue hostage. Let my body move and my mind justify. Trust that these lyrics, dance moves, and space objects, were exactly what this scene needed. That my partner is the genius and knows what to say, I merely need to set them up to deliver great lines. That this really isn’t about me at all.

IMPROV taught me to just show up. That this body and mind are enough. In fact, I’d proved that they are more because they could become anything. I realized that bringing myself was one of the most difficult things for me to do because it meant being present. Meant pressure. Meant I couldn’t prepare in advance. Meant accepting that whatever is said was supposed to be said. Meant that there was a space where my presence was always the right answer.

IMPROV taught me that the whole world is an improvised scene. Everyone in it is my partner. We are all making offers, endowments, and nudging the status of each other. I am trying to make as much sense out of the world as everyone else. Some scenes are funny, but all teach us something. Things are so much more rewarding when you take bigger risks. People appreciate it more when you get them into creative problems they must solve. You’ll always be surprised at how people think and solve their challenges. We are greeted by the sun to the start of a new day, and all hear “scene!” stage whispered by the veil of the moon.

IMPROV taught me to think about those that I should thank for my being here. From the person who made the coffee for the administrator that processed my enrollment paperwork. To the Dunkin Donuts manager that gave my mom her first job in America. I could see that each person has their own story, lives in a world that intersected with mine, has something to contribute, deserves at least a moment of my gratitude.

Thank you improv for providing me with the tools to create new worlds and ways of being. For a comfort in myself that I hadn’t enjoyed before. For making me feel free in a space that I had learned to be small in. For re-acquainting me with a love of play and no wrong answers. For giving me vocabulary words such as “delight” and “pleasure” to measure my days in.

Taking improv has changed my life. I am so grateful to have watched myself grow in the process. Though I cannot put my finger on the exact day, it was so powerful to witness me transition from being afraid to come to class, to seeing it as something I could look forward to throughout the day. A room where I set my bag down, put my phone away, and the only objectives were to have fun and be a good person!

I have found myself internalizing these messages and putting these skills into practice in my every day life. My qualifying exams went even better than I thought they did (as I’ve gotten feedback from professors and staff that were impressed by the presence I brought into the room). I find myself able to carry conversations better with complete strangers and not dreading every moment of being in a new environment. How many classes can the average person walk away from and say, “I feel closer to the person that I’m striving to be?” (Answer: very few).

In short: My life’s scenes are richer, I am more confident, and although I never know where my next scene will be or what it will hold, if I’m in it, I at least know that it will be great (or it can be mediocre, and that’s okay too!).

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