Improv for Extroverts

This is the first in a two-part series about extroverts and introverts in improvisation. The second part, written by Katie Cook, will be coming soon.

The first step is admitting that you have a problem. So here I am, admitting I have a problem.

I like to talk. I like to be the center of attention. I am an attention whore.

I always knew it was bad, but I didn’t know how bad until a few a weeks ago. My friend (let’s call her Claire) and I were going to take a new girl to lunch for her first day. Unfortunately, some meeting came up and Claire had to bail.

“Claire. What are we going to do without you?” I said. She looked right at the new girl and told her, “This is going to be really easy for you. Ben’s going to over share, probably tell you way too much about his love life, and you’re just going to sit there and nod at the appropriate points and he’ll like you. It’ll all be over soon.” And Claire left to go to her meeting.

I know there are other improvisers out there suffering from this disease – attention whoreism. It’s why we come to the stage. In our day-to-day lives, people are just trying to get us to shut the hell up. But at an improv show, people are literally paying to listen to what we have to say. Could it get any better than that?

However, I know there are others out there who come to improv for more noble reasons –finding their voice, facing their fears, becoming more confident.

These two articles will explore that dichotomy.

PART I: DEFINING THE TERMS

There are several different definitions and misconceptions about what makes an introvert or an extrovert, so we ought to at least agree on a definition for the purposes of these two articles.

Most obvious is that introversion/extroversion lives on a continuum. No one is 100% one or the other.

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Secondly, extroversion doesn’t imply that someone is a loud, obnoxious party animal in the same way that introversion doesn’t imply that someone is a shy, quiet bookworm.

It all comes down to how you draw your energy.

From io9: Extroverted people are energized by social interactions, whereas those same engagements are energetically taxing for introverts…According to Eysenck’s theory, the behaviors of introverts and extroverts are due to differences in cortical arousal (the speed and amount of the brain’s activity).  

According to this theory, because introverts process more information per second, they can be physically overwhelmed by mental stimulation, for example, when they’re on stage creating characters and scenes on the fly. Extroverts, on the other hand, crave this overstimulation in an effort to achieve a higher level of brain activity that they cannot reach from a simple conversation over coffee or a night at home.

Regardless, as an improviser improves at their craft, these differences are mitigated, but for those just starting out (0-3 years experience), the distinction is heightened.

What follows will be a massive generalization of extroverts in improv.

PART II: EXTROVERTS ON STAGE

Extroverts (like introverts) have a series of common strengths and weaknesses on stage. You’re probably an extroverted player if you:

  • Readily initiate scenes or jump on stage with no ideas for an opener.
  • Often walk on, tag out, or offer side support.
  • Play scenes quickly.
  • Openly talk about your feelings, emotions, and insecurities.

But with the ability to make bold choices comes great responsibility. Extroverts, in their desire to be the star of the show, can monopolize stage time or drive scenes. Here are a few ways for the extroverted player to challenge him or herself:

  • Kill your darlings. Improv is best when the burden of creation in shared. Even when you have an awesome idea for an initiation, tag out, or walk on, sometimes it’s best to take Faulkner’s advice and “kill your darlings.” That is to say, sometimes we must let go of our own great ideas in order for others’ ideas to succeed.
  • Hold for one moment more than is comfortable. In our rush to serve the show and fill dead space, extroverts are quick to “save the day” by initiating scenes quickly or adding more dialogue if their first line doesn’t elicit a response. Next time, hold for a few extra seconds and give time for others to make a move. Everyone benefits when the burden of creation is shared.
  • Slow down and get real. Nothing is more validating than getting that first laugh. And nothing is more nerve-wracking than silence. Not all scenes have to be funny. Jimmy Carrane once said on Improv Nerd that the sound of silence is good, it means the audience is emotionally engaged an invested. It’s when you hear coughing, ice rattling in empty cups and whispers that you should be worried. Comedy comes from truth. Don’t sell your scene out with a dick joke or a dumb premise just to get a quick laugh. Keep playing is real and grounded. The comedy will come.

PART III: EXTROVERTS, IMPROV, AND LIFE

Claire isn’t wrong. I do have a tendency to tell long-winded stories, to over-share, to want nothing more than to exposit while someone else nods their head. But through two years of improv, I’ve learned that it’s not all about me.

Everyone wants to share their stories, and sometimes, there’s nothing better or more interesting than to be the one nodding and asking questions.

While I love the thrill of being on stage, of taking the spotlight, of making people laugh, improv isn’t about my own ego trip anymore. It’s about making my friends and teammates look good. It’s about sharing a piece of myself and letting others share a piece of themselves with me.