By Rhiannon Vivian
‘It’s your limitations that make you the wonderful disaster you probably are.’
– Nick Cave
We’re obsessed with running through life. So pre-occupied with what we should
be achieving each year, so fixed on pre-prescribed life goals, expectations, peer
pressure whatever you want to call it, that we often feel we couldn’t possibly
afford to make any mistakes. That it’s wrong to have our head turned by a
possibility without a surefire guarantee it’ll ‘fit’ with the long plan, the end goal.
And we’re never encouraged to follow any tangents either… It’s an ingrained
thing in society that deviating from our imaginary self-assembled, peer-
influenced success-paths would be a grade-A bad plan. And we’re often so hung
up on trying to get it right, that despite ploughing on regardless, we’re also
I guess this happens less with improvisers as we shake hands with risk on the
way into our very first class. So my urge is to keep being cool with mucking up
and don’t let outside influences pressure you into thinking it’s a waste of time.
I’ve written before about taking risks into your real life and I think risk and
mistakes are obvious bedfellows. My first thought is why is a mistake so scary?
And, how do you know it’s a mistake until you’ve tried it out? Before you’ve
made a move – any move – it’s nothing but hypothesis. And the fun lies in the
But do you know what’s weird? All of us have a curious fascination with failure.
Look around. From the pilgrimages to crumbling monuments and abandoned
buildings to the aborted Apollo missions 18, 29 and 20 – small scale, grand scale
– we’re deeply intrigued. They make us talk, ruminate, wonder, write and re-visit.
They bubble to the surface thoughts and questions that would have never been
floated otherwise. So while ‘mistakes’ are obviously not classic, straight as an
arrow, textbook successes, they’re not failure. Not at all. So, quite the opposite of
avoiding them in life, I’d say follow them.
Great stuff comes from ‘oops.’ Accidents will open the door to something even
more awesome and unexpected. For that reason, watching people resist mistakes
or their fellow players ‘errors of judgment’ on stage in improv, is the least
satisfying thing. Watching anyone fight the error, the tangent, the curve ball is
like watching someone push the door open to a haunted house in a film, run
away, and have the credits roll. Yet there’s so much glory and wonder in the
moments that could have followed.
With this firmly in mind, Heather Urquhart and I devised an entire class. We’ve
taught Perverts and Fuck-Ups twice now, and every time it blows my mind.
Watching people allow their scenes to be ‘de-railed’ by things that aren’t
‘supposed’ to happen produces some really original, hilarious and wonderful
scenes. Scenes that most definitely do not have, ‘good sense,’ stamped on them.
Another way I like to look at it, is that it’s like you’re accessing an extra room in
your mind – that dusty attic you never knew was there. Start making, and
enjoying and following your mistakes and that whole new world gets opened up.
And what treats lie within!
Shows that have weird things that get followed, added and built on are my
absolute favourites, because they turn into something the improvisers could
never have consciously dreamed up. An example of this is Big Bang from Boston.
They deliberately follow the tangent or ‘the funny’ and don’t think for a second
about resolving or tidying up what’s gone before. It’s like a rollercoaster built
entirely of blind spots carrying you giddily from one mad non-plan to another.
It’s like Turbo-yes, and. Yes, and with extra spice. And I love it.
Watching Nick Cave’s film 20,000 Days On Earth recently, cemented all of this in
my mind. Quote after quote calmly fell from his mouth about mistakes and errors
and the way we fit them into our world (or rather don’t.) So if you can’t think of
your mistakes as great gifts just yet, why not make like Nick and call yourself a
wonderful disaster. Don’t aim for what’s correct. It’s not even there.
So please. Go forth and fuck-up. Wade knee deep in your mistakes and consume
your errors like a delicious roast dinner. They could become your greatest
achievements, and your life will be eminently greater for it.