By Darren Held

The Improviser’s Nightmare

By Kendra Nichoson

This past weekend, I lived my most feared improv performance moment. I was standing onstage in front of a sold-out audience. These people paid money to see a performance. Two of my troupemates and I had to improvise a song. Singing a song I am familiar with in front of people terrifies me. Making up a song on the spot in front of people paralyzes me. My talented friend, Aimee LaRue sang a marvelous 1st line. Really. Marvelous. She set me up beautifully. All I had to do was sing one line that ended with something that rhymed with the word “hand”. Sounds pretty simple, right? “A stranger in a foreign land.” “My spaghetti is bland.” “Pituitary gland.” The choices are damn near endless, really.

I froze.

There was absolutely nothing happening inside my head. If you had been able to take a peek inside my skull, you would have seen a tumbleweed and maybe an old boot. I opened my mouth and awkwardly mumbled some things that may or may not have been words, then finished with “and”.

I was mortified. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run off the stage. I wanted someone to pinch me so I could wake up.

My other troupemate, Beth Cunningham, took over and performed her line as beautifully as Aimee had done hers, and now we had to repeat our lines, because this was the chorus. We couldn’t just move on and pretend nothing happened. We had to sing it FOUR MORE TIMES.

We sang Aimee’s first line, then we danced through the mumbly first part of my line, and at the end of it, we all sang “and” in unison.

Then something wonderful happened.

The audience laughed. A lot. It wasn’t one of those “Oh dear God, please let this be over soon” uncomfortable laughs, either. They were still with us, and they were enjoying it.

My most horrifying stage moment became one of my most amazing learning experiences. There are no mistakes in improv. You hear that frequently, but it became crystal clear to me Saturday night. It’s OK to make mistakes. It’s unavoidable, really. It’s what you choose to do with those mistakes that makes all the difference. Use them. Embrace them. Play with them. AND… make those “mistakes” your bitch. It’s going to feel awkward as hell at first, but it will be absolutely hilarious. Trust me. I know. I have a great deal of experience making mistakes…