Wow I’ve had such a great response to the blog. Thanks for all the comments and suggestions. It’s really satisfying to know that people are hungry to improve.

So where to start? Well I want to look at each stage individually, but before we get to that let’s talk about the number one key to ensure forward progress through each of the stages. I believe it is Self-Awareness.

Why is Self-Awareness so Important?

Knowing where you want to go is important, but knowing which steps to take to get from where you are to where you want to go is ultimately dependent on your level of self-awareness. It allows you to acknowledge and play to your strengths, whilst being aware of and working to improve your weaknesses. Self-awareness also helps keep you motivated to move through setbacks. If you have an understanding of why you’re not where you want to be, you are more likely to stay motivated to get there rather than blaming external forces you can’t control. For example, an improviser might get upset because she never gets cast in shows, blaming it on the cliquey ‘politics’ of the organisation. Yet this is something she has no control over. If she focuses instead on what she needs do as a performer to get into those shows, she can stay motivated and develop a plan to achieve her goals.

As a performer, you should have an awareness of these 3 Key areas:

1. Your Personality This includes both your innate personality and how other people perceive you. What sort of performer are you? What sort of performers do you ‘click’ with both onstage and off?

2. Your Habits – Do you find yourself repeating similar patterns or playing the same characters in scenes? Do you always play a particular status? What physical habits do you exhibit on stage?

3. Your Needs – What do you want out of this business and what are you prepared to do to get it? What needs do you have on stage? Do you always go for the gag because you need to be loved by the audience? Do you need to be in control and drive the narrative and direction of your scenes?

How do you get Self-Awareness?

1. Feedback

Good feedback can be hard to get as often the thing we most need to hear is the ‘what you can do better’ type of advice. You need to be ready to hear it. And you need to get it from the right people. Useful feedback is positive as well as constructive – and you need to trust the person giving it to you.

There are two types of people you should avoid when asking for feedback – well-meaning friends, and negative critics. Now of course friends can give great advice but, on the whole, their job as a friend is to support you and stroke your ego. Negative critics seem like an obvious group to avoid but somehow they are always more than willing to offer their unsolicited advice. If it’s hurtful and destructive – ignore it! I know of one improv class who, at the end of their graduation performance, were told by their teacher that they were the worst group she’d ever taught and that the night was an absolute failure. Needless to say none of them ever came back. But at least one of them chose to continue learning and performing through different avenues. He is now one of our top performers in Explosive Minds and will be traveling to Las Vegas with us later this year. Just goes to show that negative critics are not always right!

So who should you ask? Find good teachers and ask for their honest feedback. Seek out people you admire, people who are where you want to be, and ask them about their experiences. You may be surprised to find that most performers are more than happy to talk about themselves! You will probably also be able to relate their experiences to your own journey.

2. Observation

Take videos of yourself performing as often as you can and WATCH THEM. Watching yourself perform is a great way of noticing your habits as well as analysing your stagecraft. A word of caution though – don’t just take note of your weaknesses. It is equally important to recognise and take note of your strengths.

* By the way, I plan to show you some of my old footage as an example so stay tuned for that!*

3. Failure

Don’t beat yourself up if you weren’t your absolute best or if you performed in a show that just didn’t click. This is improvisation we’re talking about here! Hindsight is a wonderful thing and every one of us has thought of a brilliant one-liner / scene ending / character choice etc. either on the way home from a show, or three weeks later when we’re supposed to be working. Learn from your mistakes but don’t stress over them.

I love this quote from Tony Robbins because I think it sums up perfectly how our failures can help us achieve greater self-awareness:

“When you temporarily run aground, remember that there are no failures in life. There are only results. Consider the adage: Success is the result of good judgement, good judgement is the result of experience, and experience is often the result of bad judgement.”

So here’s some homework for you!

Have a look at the 3 key areas of Personality, Habits & Needs and write some notes about yourself. Answer the questions as honestly as you can. If you are getting a lot of ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ answers, then you need to work on your self-awareness. If you have some really clear answers then you are probably already starting to find some areas to work on.

Let me know how you go!

Lisa x

  1. Grant says:

    Loving your work…

  2. Ivan says:

    Excellent entry, Lisa!

    Habitually, I tend to play the supportive role rather than the protagonist, but have understood in the past months that that in itself isn’t always the support they want. Hopefully it’s obvious I’m incorporating this change (probably more so in longform than in short) after feedback from jams and other performers.

    I also agree about not beating yourself up over what one may have thought was an impro fail – I almost chucked in the towel after I bombed out when we were performing at The Harold Park Hotel…! But luckily I had a couple of fellow improvisors talk me out, and if not for that, I wouldn’t be involved so much in it now.

    Whenever I “die” on stage, I tell myself, that a fail is a tool for learning, and the real fail is not to learn from it.

    Keep up with the blog! :)

  3. Phil Willis says:

    Brilliant stuff Lisa

    It makes me wish that more performers (not just improvisors) would keep your advice in mind in order to get better at what they do.

    It’s a win-win for artists AND audiences.

    Keep up the great work.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Impro Melbourne. Impro Melbourne said: Great blog from Sydney Improviser Lisa Ricketts. Defo check in here regularly for some helpful Impro insights […]

  5. Jason Dunn says:

    I love that Tony Robbins quote also. This is the first place I’ve read it.
    I remember seeing myself on video for the first time and immediately changing my behaviour during scene set ups. I should watch some more videos of myself.