Embracing Fear

I am writing this blog from South Paris Maine at a place called Celebration Barn Theatre.  It is an old red barn built in 1902 that was turned into a Centre for creating original theatre by Tony Montanaro.

Today was the first workshop of a 5 day session.  It was a fun filled day and I am absolutely delighted by the positive energy and supportive play coming from the students.  This wonderful atmosphere is their energy, it is the teachers role to find ways to tap into it and free it.

During the day I began to think about a blog I wrote called Fear is a 4 letter word, so is good.  In particular I was mulling the Embrace Fear aspect.  For example I wrote.

Applying Keith Johnstone’s words that I mentioned above like “Embrace failure with good naturedness and the audience will want you to succeed.”  will support the improvisers in their failure moments, and create an atmosphere in the room for inspired play. These Keith teachings provide support for improvisers to take the leap into the unknown and know they can handle success or failure.  It enables, allows and it trusts.  The truth of the matter is that for all the improvisers out there many still don’t trust themselves, their partners and the work.  How can you embrace the unknown without that? 

All of which I believe.  So how do you move someone from fear to embracing fear?  This requires a certain awareness, skill and focus from the teachers perspective.  Impro principals need to be taught in ways that are not just intellectual concepts.  I can tell a room full of players to embrace fear, they will understand the concept but it doesn’t mean they can or will do it.  I need to give them the experience so they can feel the trust, safety, and joy of embracing this fear.  Often this embracing comes in the form of permission.  Permission the teacher gives, the students give each other and for us to be honest in what is happening in the work.

Many years ago Keith Johnstone began adding a playful ‘again’ into word at a time work.  A way of letting go of stressful stories or stories that were going no where.  Players say it with delight and in a playful happy way throwing arms in the air.  This helps release the pressure to be good, which builds fear.  It gives permission to admit and let go of what isn’t working, be honest and obvious that it isn’t working, and move onto something that may inspire. 

As I was teaching word at a time today I added in the ‘again’ as I usually do.  However it had a different result.   It seemed to  actually build a bit of fear.  I had never encountered this.  I observed that the students, who are all really enjoying each other, seemed to respond to this ‘again’ as if they were now judging their partner and they didn’t want to offend.  It was a different fear an interesting fear that came out of a respect and not wanting to insult.  This was a lovely problem to have but their courtesy and respect was preventing the work. 

So I tried the following, I stopped the group and asked them to shake their partners hand and say “I give you permission to say ‘Again!’”  They did and the room energy changed immediately.  Again was called frequently, the energy in the room went up, the playfulness increased and the stories began to flow.  I asked them to stop, change partners and do another word at a time.  All the groups immediately shook their partners hand and said “I give you permission to say ‘Again!’”  They really needed this permission.

I suspect this is an example of where many people, groups and exercises are stopped.  The concept of embrace fear is understood, it is finding the pathways to remove the fear to allow the group to move forward that can be the challenge for the teacher.  What permission do you need to give, prompt or release?

I think it is helpful to see what they are doing and ask yourself why they are doing that.  In asking the why we may get to the heart of the problem.

What are they doing? - avoiding using the ‘again’

Why are they doing it? - they are afraid of..... admitting failure?  judging or offending their partner?  being judged?

How can I help? - have them give permission to each other to call again.

This permission also builds trust, which we know is essential. 

When I think back to my days working with Keith Johnstone and the Loose Moose Theatre there was constant permission which built the trust and the fearlessness.


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