Before I left Sydney, a fantastic Sandberg-ian mentor gave me a piece of advice: to take the opportunity of starting fresh as a student here at Oxford to fail at something. She hastened to add that she didn’t mean my course. She was thinking more along the lines of ice-skating. And obviously the goal wasn’t to fail, but to try my hand at something without caring about the consequences. Shrewdly, she perceived that one of my personal obstacles is self-consciousness.
Paradoxically, it is the fear of looking like a fool that often leads to…looking like a fool. Just think the people who pull out their phone at parties the second they’re left alone (as if anyone thinks they’re fielding a bunch of urgent/hilarious messages), or when someone is so concerned about how they look on the dancefloor that they end up awkwardly moving like a stick insect on a hot plate. Rather than just letting themselves go and creating this kind of magic:
There’s beauty in just getting into it.
With my wise friend’s advice in mind, yesterday I went to an improv workshop run by the Oxford Imps. It was with apprehension that I dragged myself there, as improv is definitely out of my comfort zone. My drama experience is pretty limited: to playing Romeo in a school performance (somehow I don’t think my 14-year-old gangliness and squeaky mouse voice adequately conveyed the intended emotional intensity of the suicide scene); playing Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother in a video I made with my friends in year 10 (wherein I wore a lace-decked shower cap and danced with a papier-mâché lobster); and caterwauling in our musical adaption of Macbeth (set in a despotically-run fast food restaurant, entitled ‘Macbeef’).
But improv is something I’ve wanted to try for ages, ever since I saw Shaun Micallef on Thank God You’re Here (how heartening is it that 10 years as an insurance lawyer didn’t dampen his wit?), and discovered the wonders of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. And especially since I came to Oxford and bore witness to the on-the-spot rhyming, freestyle rapping and scene-weaving of the Imps. One of my favourite Oxford pastimes is to watch them perform at the Wheatsheaf on Monday evenings, get a belly-laugh ab workout and plot how to befriend them IRL.
The workshop was so much fun, and I’m so glad that I didn’t chicken out. If I’m going with the whole ‘Improv as a metaphor for life’ thread, I think it exemplifies the benefit of taking yourself more seriously, and less seriously. Basically, having conviction in your ability to generate original ideas of value, and being ok with making an ass of yourself, makes for the funniest and most enjoyable scenes. (Tina Fey’s treatise on the beauty of ‘Yes, and’, making statements and embracing everything as an opportunity is amazing).
It gave me a taste for what I think could be a super fun hobby. Maybe I’ll build up to starting an improv troupe back in Sydney…called ‘Rhyme and Pun-ishment’. Or ‘Mission Imp-ossible’. Or ‘Ren and St-imp-y’. No wrong answers, right?