Do you trust yourself onstage yet?

I hope the answer is yes, but let's get real. It's not always going to be that way. Some days are better than others and there's no explanation for it. Self doubt comes like a thief in the night.

I was sitting in a meeting today, peering down at the agenda, and realized - gadzooks - I might be expected to present something here. My mind clouded and I started fumbling around on my laptop, rapidly gathering information I might need to sound like a coherent person. Yep. That was me, your calm and cool professional improviser, inwardly freaking out. As it turns out, I was not needed. But if I had been called upon, I can assure you I would have been about as flexible and interesting as a lamp post.  

How is that any different that standing onstage, feeling the pressure of making the audience laugh? It's actually worse, right? The good news is you can build security measures to lessen the frequency and impact of self doubt. So the thief in the night doesn't visit often and, even if he does, he can't do much damage.

There are two basic approaches to building self confidence for improvisers. Right now, let's focus on the pro-active approach. For students, there's two basic ways to proactively build confidence.

  1. Rehearse with MOST of the team you will perform with A LOT. 
  2. Alphas
To point number 1, what does MOST and A LOT mean? Back in the day, when an ensemble of professional improvisers reported to me, I held them accountable to attending at least 3 rehearsals a month, but - when things were really cooking - there were twelve opportunities to rehearse each month. But many were attending far more than the minimum. I know of a few who made it to all twelve, each month. "How the heck?" you ask.

How the heck, indeed! Here are the points I am making. Schedule the darn rehearsals even if you can't get full attendance. You can't expect the whole group to show up, every time and you don't really want that anyway. With every variation of attendees, there's a different dynamic. Exposing them to that fluctuation makes them flexible and durable. But you also want folks to attend most of the time. If folks don't rehearse the minimum requirement, they shouldn't play. But the rewards for attending is performance time.... and confidence. Yep. Getting there and getting involved makes performance easier. Who knew? I suggest one regular rehearsal per week for student teams. I also encourage "spinoff" opportunities. If Barney wants to open his garage for a jam, awesome. But Barney better invite the whole crew or Barney's spinoff will become a schism.

To point number 2, make certain you have scheduled 15 minutes at the end of every rehearsal to give alphas. What are they? They are well formulated compliments. Stand in a circle and take turns sharing alphas. Here's the formula:

I liked it when [name] did [something observed from the rehearsal today] because [explain the benefit].

Let's not glaze over that with "I liked it when Joe did that thing with the bear because it was funny." Give Joe and the rest of the team the opportunity to learn from you. It will help Joe's confidence and - indirectly - the team's because they get to hear one more way to be successful. "I liked it when Joe was holding a teddy bear that was too big to hold because it showed great physical action and gave the rest of us a lot to play on." What if you were Joe? How would that compliment make you feel?

Maybe a little more confident? I hope so.

Good luck out there!