I have been trying to write this post for two weeks. I thought it would be easy. I thought I would quickly summarize how the performance went and how I felt about the whole experience while it was all fresh in my mind. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
I’ll blame it partly on the fact that I didn’t walk in the door until the sun was coming up the morning after Fear Experiment, leaving me completely exhausted for days (I’m 34, not 24!).
I’ll also blame it on the fact that the day before the show I had to make the incredibly difficult decision to put my cat, Wally, to sleep. And then two days after the show I had to go through with that decision and say goodbye to my furry feline companion of the last 11 years.
But most of all, I’ll blame it on the fact that it has just been really difficult to summarize the crazy adventure that was Fear Experiment. To refresh your memory (or in case you missed my earlier Experimenting with Fear post), Fear Experiment was:
21 people who can’t dance and don’t know each other
20 people who can’t improvise and don’t know each other
1 improv teacher
14 elementary-school students
1 sold-out show at the Park West in front of 700 people
“Life is s a journey, not a destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (and Aerosmith)
As we walked onto the stage to kick off the Fear Experiment show, my legs were shaking. I was nervous about being funny, about being loud enough, about not completely freezing up and looking stupid in front of 700 people. And then our first improv game began and for some reason I will never comprehend, I jumped out to go first. The game was called “World’s Worst” – we got a suggestion from the audience of a profession and then took turns stepping up to the microphone and demonstrating the world’s worst of that profession. As I hopped up to the front of the stage and said whatever I said (it was such a blur, I don’t really remember), I didn’t even notice the audience and I felt for a second that I had shaken the nerves.
And then came the silence. Just silence. Well, to be fair, there may have been a chuckle or two, but certainly nothing resembling the enthusiastic laughs of 700 people. At that moment, any amount of confidence I had accumulated over the previous two months disappeared into oblivion.
I stood at the back of the stage through the next two suggestions, feeling somewhat shell-shocked and fighting the urge to crawl into a hole. Finally, the last suggestion was one that we had done in rehearsal just a couple weeks earlier. So, I kind of cheated. I pushed myself back out to the microphone and recited something incredibly similar to what I said in the earlier rehearsal. To my great relief, people laughed and I felt slightly redeemed and a just a little bit more confident.
I participated in two more improv games in the show and generally felt more comfortable in each one. But when we finally all gathered on stage for our final bow, I was so relieved that I exhaled for what seemed like the first time all night. The show was not fun for me – it was terrifying and stressful and honestly, a little anti-climatic. Which brings me back to the quote above – just like life, Fear Experiment wasn’t so much about that final performance as it was about the journey that brought us to that point.
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” – Ray Bradbury
Pete, our fearless improv teacher, encouraged us to “keep it stupid” and to not censor our creativity out of a fear of looking stupid. When we started, I thought my problem wasn’t that I was censoring myself, but that I just couldn’t think of anything to say in the first place. Over time, though, I had to admit that without even realizing it, I was thinking too much. I was putting so much pressure on myself to come up with the perfectly creative, hilarious thing to say that I was going blank instead. I was too self-conscious.
I would like to be able to say I eventually embraced “keeping it stupid” and threw my self-consciousness out the door, but that wasn’t the case. When I first wrote about Fear Experiment, I described my difficulty with improvising when put on the spot in certain situations and I can’t say I made a whole lot of progress on that front. Did I have my moments? Sure. But I was still much more at ease when I had time to think before I spoke. And at the same time, I usually sat in awe and envy of my fellow improvisers and the uniquely hilarious characters and situations they created, feeling discouraged that such ideas never even crossed my mind.
I can’t really say Fear Experiment allowed me to bring out my creative side, but I think it showed me that we are all creative, but that creativity can manifest itself in different ways. Likewise, we are all born with a variety of talents and I think part of our mission in life is to discover those talents and hopefully make the most of them. I have plenty of talents (really, I do!), but what Fear Experiment reinforced for me is that being spontaneously witty and creative generally isn’t among them. More importantly, Fear Experiment taught me that that is okay.
“A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.” – Will Rogers
The best thing about Fear Experiment is that it introduced me to an incredible group of strangers who quickly became friends. Our ages spanned nearly four decades and our occupations were all over the board, including an accountant, professor, zoologist, photographer, social worker and lawyer. It is not a stretch to say that most of us may never have crossed paths if not for Fear Experiment.
We spent over two months learning improv together, but, more than that, we spent that those months laughing and cheering together, drinking and dancing, celebrating birthdays and closing down late night karaoke bars, sharing life’s ups and downs and forming the kind of bond and camaraderie that can otherwise take years to develop. Despite our varying backgrounds, the fact that we all signed up for this project meant that we shared an open-mindedness and desire to challenge ourselves. Our shared similarities transcended any differences.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss
As I mentioned earlier, I walked in my door the morning after Fear Experiment as the sun was rising. After the show ended, we enjoyed an after-party at the Park West, then moved to an after-after party and finally, to a late-night “breakfast.” The feeling seemed to be unanimous that we weren’t ready for the whole experience to end – again, not so much that evening’s show but the entire journey.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many members of the group are making plans to continue taking improv classes together. And it also shouldn’t come as a surprise that I have little desire to join them. Okay, maybe I have about a 5% desire, stemming solely from the fact that I don’t want to feel left out by not continuing.
Fear Experiment was a pivotal experience for me. It challenged me and helped me grow as a person, learning important lessons about myself along the way. It introduced me to an amazing group of like-minded people and allowed me to develop new friendships that I hope will continue to grow. It forced me to face my fears and gave me strength in doing so. In fact, my new mantra when facing a difficult situation is “I performed improv in front of 700 people, I can do this.”
So I am not crying because Fear Experiment is over. I’m smiling a huge smile because it happened. And now it is time for me to move on to the next challenge and the next adventure. Stay tuned…
Photos 3, 5, 6 and 7 above were taken by the awesome Rich Chapman.