Over the last week or so a lot of people on social media have been listing their top 10 albums or so from high school and it made me think of a lesson that I used to teach in improv in terms of varying the energy of a show. I always said a show should feel like a good album where all the tracks are different speeds, lengths, and energy.
Think of your favorite album. Go ahead. DO IT!!! Ok. Mine is "the bends" by Radiohead. It's great because there are varying levels of energy in all the different songs. Some faster. Some slower. You don't want every song to sound the same. Same as in improv. You want variations. You want different energies. Edit a scene quick if you just did a longer scene. Don't do two grandparents scenes back to back. Give the audience something different. Change it up. We need that same thing in our lives. It can't all be the same thing. We need variety and different energies. When your show/life feels stale or the same, switch up the energy.
here are some things I've learned to help switch the energy up in the day to day. When life gets stale change the energy.
1) TAKE TIME TO APPRECIATE WHAT YOU HAVE
It's easy to see the negative but if you can find and show things you appreciate in your life it changes the way you see the world. When I was at my darkest I felt I had nothing to appreciate. No job. No possible momentum. The Skinny wasn't what it once was. I was self-sabotaging any and all good relationships I had in my life and I was so blinded by what I didn't have that I lost sight of what I did. Even in the darkness I had little things I could use as light. I was alive. I had a family who cared. I had a roof over my head. My heart was still beating. You may be at such a point that any one of those simple, basic things are what you write down and appreciate. I had so much I was struggling against and it felt everyday something new was just dumped on the pile of crap that was my life. Personal bills couldn't be paid. I never knew what utility was going to be shut off. Soul crushing moments of depression would drive me to my knees, feeling that people abandoned me or didn't know or care how to reach out to me. I felt my star dim even more as life reminded me of how much it sucked. But I had the basic things to appreciate. When you find you need to change the rhythms of your life, find and write down things to appreciate. It may be the same things everyday but eventually new flowers will grow out of the seeds you've planted.
2. VUNERABLE IS WONDERFULABLE
If you haven't read the Five Love Languages you should. The way I give and receive love is through words. So I use that to be vulnerable to people around me. I have a daily goal where I reach out to five people and try to compliment them. I've taken this a step further and try to do it at least once a day with someone I don't know. Be appropriate with it. I never want to make someone I don't know uncomfortable by saying, "You look so peaceful when you sleep." or jumping out of a bush yelling "I LIKE THAT SWEATER!!! THAT COLOR IS GOOD FOR YOU!!!" Obviously, be respectful of a stranger's distance but we need more nice in the world. Be vulnerable and let someone know they mean something to you. Reach out via text or message or call. But push yourself to be vulnerable and make it about the other person.
3. ITS YOU, ITS YOU, ITS ALL FOR YOU
I know I said make it about the other person but sometimes we need to focus on us. This is the hardest one for me because I'm so hard on myself and have those moments where I don't feel I deserve good things. But I do and so do you. Whether it's buying a shirt or article of clothing that makes you feel good or saving up for a trip you've always wanted to go on. In my vision quest over the last few years it's been very tough financially. My ego and pride were taught a lot of lessons. I struggled with money because I was out of work a lot or I just didn't make any money at the jobs I was at. I was fortunate enough to have friends let me stay on their couches or put me up. I joke I was basically homeless for two years and I had no money for extra stuff. So I cut back on things I didn't need and just got what I needed to survive. A celebration was buying the good bread at the store and not the kind that went stale as soon as you opened it. When I finally got a job and had some extra money I went and bought myself some cologne because smelling good has always helped me in my self confidence. I learned to survive without it (both cologne and self confidence) but it's something I liked and, when I was able to, I reintroduced it into my life to change the energy of my life.
4 CHANGE, CHANGE, CHANGE
I had an improv teacher that said you should switch up your pre class routine often. Take a different route to class, sit by someone new, get a different type of coffee. We are creatures of habit and routine makes us feel comfortable but sometimes we need to break out of that comfortableness and do something different. 2015 for me was a year I really wanted to try this on a large scale so I told myself I would do different things and things that scare me. Like trying new foods I've never really tried, going to concerts or places where there were large groups of people (fun fact, I have social anxiety pretty bad. I'm uncomfortable in groups but you could put me in front of 12,000 people right now and I could do a 2 hour comedy show by myself and be fine). I did those things and others things that scared me like talking to girls. Some of those experiences went fine others were dumpster fires (mostly talking to girls) but I became better because of it. Change your routine and you'll see some new parts of your life grow.
5. REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD
When i first heard Peaches & Herb’s Reunited I had a spiritual experience with that song. I was maybe 6? 7? Hard to remember because it was so long ago. Anyway. I'm sitting in the guest room at my uncle's house and we're up early to go fishing (Yes I do things outdoor even though, like most things in and a part of it, nature is trying to kill me). So I'm getting ready and that song comes on the radio and I'm sitting there, feet dangling off the bed and I'm feeling this song. Like connecting on another level. I want these people back together. I need them to rekindle their love. They had to reconnect and be with each other. In improv we have a thing called a connection or callback. It's when a bit or something is introduced in the beginning of the show and then much later brought back unexpectedly and it just kills. The life of comedy comes from connection. The way an audience see themselves on stage in that same moment. It's all about connecting. We need that in life too.
Reach out to an old high school friend and see how they're doing. Call someone and ask them to coffee. I'm working (very unsuccessfully at times) about not having my cell phone out in social situations. I even try to leave it at home occasionally. We are meant as people to connect with each other. I always say improv in its simplest form is two people connecting over one shared moment. All bad improv can almost always be boiled down to bad two-person scenes. Slow it down and listen to your partner. Slow life down and be present with who is in your life. Ask open ended questions, engage and listen and just not hear. Normally in life we wait for the other person to stop talking so we can start talking. That's hearing. Connect and listen instead. It makes the scene more fun when you build it together.
6) TAKE TIME TO LEARN SOMETHING NEW
We should never stop learning. I've been doing professional improv for 20 years and I still learn something new about it every time I interact with it. Take an art class. Learn a language. Read books that have nothing to do with your job. Take an improv or acting class. I don't have time. We make time for what's important to us and if we want to change up the energy in our lives we will make time to become a more rounded person
7) PLAY. HAVE FUN
Growing up sucks. Adulting is hard. Bills. Money. Relationships. Health. All this grown up stuff sucks at times. I'm 44 with type 2 diabetes. I've had it for almost 11 years and I've learned to live with it. But it sucks. I can't eat certain things that I would love to. As we get older our bodies just seem to say "Nope. The left knee is taking the day off. So don't push it." We have to have a pill for this or a pill for that or we can't do this or we can't eat that. What's that called? Adulting. We get in our heads about life and it's no fun. But every once in a while go be a kid again. Go to the park and play. Go to the arcade and play video games (1984 in downtown Springfield is great because it's the games I grew up on). Have a snowball fight. Build a fort in your living room. Color. Still be responsible but don't forget that life is fun. In improv if you're not having fun then you may be the jerk in the scene. When improv stopped being fun for me I quit for a while because I was making everyone miserable. Play. Find a way to have some fun. You can't spell fun without "U".
These are just things I've found and thought about. Again. I'm not a licensed therapist, I've just been through a lot of crap. When life gets stale and all the songs in your world sound the same. Switch up the energy and introduce some change in your scene. You and the people around you will enjoy it all a lot more.
As my dear sainted mother always says, "Y'all be sweet."
jeff Jenkins is an award winning comedian, actor, writer, producer and director and writes about how improv comedy helps him in his ongoing battle with depression and living his best improvised life.