To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip?
— Eminem (because I’m super cool and relevant)
A few months ago, my girlfriend was getting ready to perform in her first belly dance recital. She was understandably nervous. She’d been taking weekly classes for a year and a half, and it was finally time to show her friends and family everything she’d been learning — her one chance until the following year’s recital.
It’s no wonder she felt like that performance was — as Eminem raps — her one opportunity.
I don’t blame her for being nervous. I can relate. Despite the fact that I’ve been improvising for four years and have performed north of 100 shows, there are nights where I still get butterflies — where I feel like this is my one shot. That, on this particular night, I have something to prove.
Thankfully, those bouts of nervousness are fewer and farer between. And not because I’ve had four years to hone my craft — because I’ve performed in 100 shows, and I’ll perform in 100 more. Even if I bomb tonight, I’ll be on stage in another week or two. I’ll have another opportunity to prove myself.
But I didn’t always feel so easy-breezy-beautiful-Cover Girl. I still remember the moments before my first “real” improv show. I was performing in a Cage Match (a competition where the audience votes on the funniest team) and my parents and grandparents had come to see what I’d been studying for six months.
The stakes couldn’t have been higher. It felt like my one shot. My one opportunity.
For a time, that performance loomed large in my memory. It was the first drop of water in a bucket. But when you mix that drop with 99 others, they all run together and no single drop really stands out any more than the others.
Practice doesn’t make perfect. Performance does.
Now, I look back on that performance as “just another show.” One I can hardly remember (beyond that nervous pre-show), one my family has most likely forgotten, and one most STL improvisers never saw or don’t remember ever happening.
I’m lucky to have so many opportunities to put myself out there. It’s freeing.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, only has one recital a year. In stark contrast to 4 years of practice and 100 shows, she’s had 1.5 years of practice and 1 show. That’s a lot of pressure. I’d be nervous too (not thatshe needed to be — the performance was excellent).
The more you fill your bucket, by putting yourself out there, the easier it is to experiment, push the boundaries, improve, and quiet that inner Eminem, the one telling you that This. Is. It.
But if, like my girlfriend, your next showcase isn’t just around the corner, then the way I see it, you have a few options:
- The first is to Jedi mind-trick yourself into not feeling that fear by practicing how to recover from messing up (which will inevitably happen)
- The second is to create your own opportunities to get your work in front of other people, outside the “official” channels — online videos, blogging, Instagram, a pop-up show in your basement (even just for two people).Find ways to put yourself out there and fill that bucket before “the big night” and you won’t feel as nervous.
- The third, of course, is to just accept that you’re going to be nervous. That it’s part of the process. And that, in all likelihood, you’re going to do better than you think and any mistake will loom larger in your own mind than in anyone else’s.
Oh, and no matter which path you take, you should probably eat a big ol’ plate of Mom’s spaghetti.