By Darren Held

Just Relax

Here’s what troupie Beth Cunningham has to say about relaxin’ and improvin’:

“Just relax.”

This was feedback a former improv instructor gave me at the end of my class session. And just like magic, I never worried about an improv scene ever again… ehh… not so much… Telling me to “just relax” made me even more stressed!!! There’s so much to think about during an improv scene—character, listening, getting out the who/what/where/relationship, yes and-ing, spacework – and now relaxation is a priority?! Since when?!

Fast forward a few days, I was having a very exciting Saturday watching a “Chopped” marathon on the Food Network. If you’re not familiar with the show, the contestants have a limited amount of time to cook a dish for three judges and they have to use the mystery ingredients presented to them. The mystery ingredients give the chefs an element of surprise and prevent too much pre-planning prior to the challenge. This naturally reminded me of improv. We come into the scene with our skills, but we need to be prepared for whatever “mystery ingredients” are thrown our way and be willing to accept them. Well, this one chef competing on the show mentioned that he’s trying to just relax to ensure that his creativity is present in his work! This man had 30 minutes to whip up some chicken liver stroganoff utilizing the mystery ingredients, and he was focused on relaxing to ensure that the judges truly saw his full abilities and talent.

That’s when I decided to explore this “relaxation” concept because not relaxing during a scene can manifest into an abundance of obstacles—getting into your head, not listening closely, not connecting with your scene partner, etc. So by not relaxing, you can negatively impact a scene, by not being your very best, creative self! So, why is it that even though I want so desperately to relax, there are still times when I’m in my head and nerves eat at me?! This is definitely something that I am continuously trying to explore.

One thing that I’ve enjoyed experimenting with is my character’s physicality. Physicality can be underestimated, and it’s a great strategy to relax and settle into a scene more. Character needs to be in your body. You need to feel your character. Once you embody a character, the pressure is off yourself to have to come up with all the answers. It’s your character’s job. Not yours. You don’t need to mentally leave the scene to come up with a witty line. Leave it to your character. You know you’ve succeeded at this if you can say after a scene, “I didn’t even think of that. My character did.” That doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s magic. The scene is moving forward with your character in it; your job as an improviser is to get out of your character’s way.

Relaxation definitely doesn’t always come naturally to me when I’m performing improv, but I feel like I’m slowly taking some baby steps in the right direction. Ultimately, relaxing will not only better my improv scenes, but will also allow me to enjoy being in the moment all the more. So give it a try. Just relax! *wink*