Tuesday, November 11, 2008

About vulnerability

We talked about this a lot when I worked with Jill and Dave, and I think it's fascinating. 

So, you know, bear with me. 

A few random thoughts: 
  • Del Close said once that people get into improvisation because they've been told they're funny. And there's a good chance they developed the sense of humor to deal with some perceived character flaw or insecurity. And the only way to succeed in improvisation is to reveal your deepest, darkest self and shames. So the thing  you're drawn to forces you to face your worst fears. 
  • Jill Bernard says (I'm paraphrasing here, and won't do it as elegantly) that the only way to succeed in a solo show is to be willing to 'break your own heart."
  • Consistently, the improvisers who are most fun to watch are the ones most willing to be vulnerable—emotionally, physically, personally. (Without, you know, DRASTICALLY OVERSHARING.) They show themselves in their work. 
Tonight with the Exit 16 kids, we played New Choice and Blind Line. In both, you insert fairly random lines and have to let them affect the scene. (New Choice—every time a bell rings, the player must immediately change his/her line/activity; Blind Line—players must randomly pick up lines of "dialogue" suggested by the audience and written on pieces of paper and use them as dialogue.*)

I've started to like "affect the scene" must more than "justify the line." Justify means explain—make it make sense. Being affected means everything changes.  In one scene, a guy on a computer at a coffee house said, "We've only got four minutes to save the world" (song lyric).

Holy crap. If anything should change a scene—relationships, action, behavior, feelings—shouldn't a line like that change everything? But instead, we justify—we make it make sense within the context of the scene. 

If we're truly vulnerable, a line like that makes a difference. Changes our day. Makes us rethink our priorities. Maybe we try to help. Or deal with the potential End Times. But with an intellectual approach, it's just another laugh line. (And then, only because the audience recognizes it as something they said first.)

Which is why the idea that our President-Elect might be willing to show vulnerability is so exciting. For eight years, it's kinda felt like nothing mattered to the people in charge except accomplishing what they already believed. Everything went through their filter—everything was shaped to fit their idea of the world and how it should be. People were labeled (Conservative Christian, Godless Liberal). And stereotypes—if they weren't perpetuated—were reinforced by the media. 

Things were decided, and we went from point A to point B according to plan. 

Being vulnerable is being open. It means you can be affected by things that happen to you—feelings, ideas, information, opinions, acts, events. Being vulnerable means you admit you're not perfect. You know there are parts of  you that can be improved or completed by other  people.

I totally reject the idea that it means weak or defenseless. 

To have enough confidence in  your own ideas, knowledge and strength to put them out there—and be open to hearing something that might change them—is one of the bravest, most selfless things you can do. Because you're opening yourself to the chance that you'll head into very dangerous, very scary territory, and you're saying you're willing to go. 

It'll be interesting to see how big a scale this theory plays out on—or if it does.

*I am a HUGE SNOB about how these games are played. 
New Choice: Change the line dramatically—not just the noun or verb. Take a complete turn. Or use it as a chance to make your choice better. (The person on the bell can ding you for questions, wimpy initiations, conflict, etc.)
Blind Line: Do not preface. Do not talk after. After someone else says a line, PICK UP THE FREAKING LINE, SAY IT AND SHUT THE HELL UP. I hate watching troupes who set up the line ("It's like my grandpappy used to say..." or justify it away "I'm going to add something after the line to explain why I said it.") and it makes this game almost unwatchable.


  1. Trish! I did it, I really did it! I was in a SCRAM scene in Denver last weekend and afterwards Joe said, "I saw your reaction when I said 'THANK you' [in a tone of voice that meant 'fuck you'] and I thought 'Oh shit, now I have to be an even bigger asshole,'" WHICH MEANT I released relinquished and surrendered my soft underbelly to him! It's like I finally took the note! It only took a month. It feels like a tiny victory for vulnerability.

  2. YAY! You have given Joe your underbelly, The Greatest Gift Of All.

  3. Ah, vulnerability. My greatest fear. *decides to work on that*


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