Getting Out Of The Improv Dip

by “Lloydie” James Lloyd

Most, if not all, improvisers have had ‘The Dip’ at image
some point. You can be freewheeling along,
loving your scenework and thinking that you’re
invincible on stage for a few months and then
BOOM, it hits you like a truck – one of those large
trucks with a fierce Transformers-like frontage.
Suddenly it feels like you can’t improvise. It feels
like everything you do on stage sucks. It’s like
wading through treacle – dark, humour-draining
treacle.
This raises a few questions: Is this merely a state
of mind? Am I really doing ‘bad’ improv? If I’m not
doing my best work, how do I get back to my best? Have I been a fraud all this time?
Every performer, whether they do improv or not, goes through a similar thing from time to time. As
humans we are often quick to compare ourselves to others and write off our own good work as
occasional happy accidents, whilst insisting that our bad work is our ‘true self’. We can easily
become experts in beating ourselves up.
I’ve been through ‘The Dip’ a couple of times in the last year. It makes me pine for the highs I
might have had only a few weeks previously, and simultaneously doubt my own abilities to produce
those highs again. It’s a state that interests me because I know so much of it is a negative spiral;
One bad scene can put us in our heads, once we are in our heads that can lead to further bad
scenes and then we put pressure on ourselves to be good, which in turn stifles creativity and then
we are stuck in a negative loop. So how do we get out of the dip?
I’m not sure I have a definitive answer, other than going back to basics, remembering that this
happens to all of us, and cutting yourself some slack. In order to get some useful advice on how to
get back to the best work and out of ‘The Dip’, I’ve contacted a number of teachers, improv heroes
and mentors to ask their opinions. Over the next few weeks I’m going to share them here. The
first is from Brandon Gardner, teacher and performer at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in
New York:
“I remember an art teacher in high school saying that with painting you start pretty bad and you
struggle and then out of nowhere you create something that’s actually pretty good and then you go
back to being bad but a little better than you were before. Then suddenly you create something
really good, better than the last really good thing, and then you go back down again but are now
doing work that’s consistently a good deal better then when you started. He mentioned that he had
a music teacher friend who experienced the same thing with music.
“As an improviser and as an improv teacher I’ve noticed a similar trend. When you start your
scenes are all pretty bad, then out of nowhere you do a great scene and the you spend months
trying to find another great one again but you’re a little better than you were before. This continues
forever. Eventually you get to where your regular everyday improv is better than that first
miraculous great scene you did when you started.
“But just like those sudden artistic miracles where you do a scene or a show that feels better than
you’ve ever done before and you can’t explain it, sometimes you have a scene or a show or a little
string of shows that seem unexplainably terrible. I generally think that you just have to ride these
out and not over think them. Thinking about a dip is a good way to extend it. “But it’s probably not a bad a idea to take stock of why your improv feels bad and maybe what else
is happening in your life. Are you being overly judgmental of yourself or those you’re playing with?
They go hand in hand and they’re an improv killer. Are you putting too much pressure on your
improv because you want to get on a team or get approval from a teacher?
“Remember that you do this for the joy of it. Are you bored and coasting with your improv? Give
yourself something specific to work on. Are you doing too much improv and not making time for a
well rounded life? Finding other activities that make you happy and give you peace will help your
improv, so maybe remind yourself what those things are. How are your relationships with other
people? How’s your self esteem in general? Is your judgement of your improv so attached to your
self esteem that you forget to value yourself for your other great qualities and things you do?
“Remember that with anything artistic the peaks and valleys are temporary and mysterious and
you can’t think of yourself as a genius after a great show or an idiot after a bad one. Either way it’s
just one more step towards slowly getting better.”
Brandon Gardner can be seen performing with The Curfew at The Upright Citizens Brigade
Theatre, New York. If you’re in NYC, go see their show (‘show’ should link to http://
newyork.ucbtheatre.com/talent/view/5052)

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