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Beating The Actor’s Nightmare

Sin City Improv

I currently perform in a weekly improvised soap opera: Sin City Improv. The show itself is a delight to be a part of, filled with the best improvisers in town; I feel I’m absorbing so much from working with them. I’m also seeing a side benefit in my dreamworld.

Almost every actor is familiar with The Actor’s Nightmare. It’s that dream of being backstage when someone comes up to you and says you’re late for your cue and need to get onstage, NOW! And you step onstage and the audience looks expectantly at you, judging your every move, and the lights beam bright and hot and sweat pours down and the bottom of your stomach sinks away suddenly as you realize you have no idea what your line is… no idea what to do onstage…

And that’s normally when the actor wakes up in a cold sweat with a deep-seated ache of irresponsibility, insecurity, and guilt filling their throat, their gut, their head.

Well, for the past few weeks, in the midst of a huge transition period for me as I finally exit my life as a professional student and try to become a professional, I have been having different variations on this dream. But they’ve taken a different turn.

I’ve been performing improv, on and off, for the past two years. Perhaps two dozen performances in total in that timespan. And it has been rubbing off, I suppose, because when I have the dream, I’m thrust on that stage, and my mind goes blank, and I… well… I make stuff up. I roll with it. I take control of the stage and say the first thing off the top of my head, and make it work.

Then, feeling pretty chuffed (1st definition) with myself, I step offstage, and find somewhat annoyed co-actors who accuse me of speaking far more than I should have, and of going off on a bit of a ramble, which, in each case, I did.

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Image by Craig Grobler via Flickr

What do I take from this? Well, it shows that my internal level of confidence is building; if the actor’s nightmare occurs, I know I can handle the situation. That said, I don’t seem to have enough confidence quite yet to believe I can handle the situation very well. But still… improvement!

Even in those nightmarish moments when all the lines fade away, I take stock in the fact that I still have a toolbox of skills at my disposal. And above and beyond that, I still feel comfortable. Beyond comfortable, even. When I am standing on a stage in front of a crowd, with their expectant energies directed toward me, well, that’s when I feel more at home than anywhere else. More free to express myself. More free to go big and be home.

Even on those days when everything else around the craft feels like work, the moment I step onto that stage and create, I know I’m meant to be an actor. Which is why I love improv so much. I’m not the funniest man in the room, but I will gleefully seize onto the opportunity, every time, to just get up and be a character.

The air is so crisp and clear, crackling with electricity, up on that stage. What a beautiful vista.

Cheers,
Andrew Wade

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