We’re nearing the finish line on our exploration of Theatresports’ “Ten Commandments.” I’ve been working my way through these improv guidelines that I first encountered while studying the craft in high school.
The eighth commandment observes:
To wimp is to show thy true self
I find the phrasing of this statement particularly interesting as in many ways it implies that our “true self” is perhaps not laudable and that most of us are fear-based in our actions. (The next commandment offsets this a little.) As noted in an earlier entry, wimping is the act of not fully investing yourself in your own offers and ideas, or those of your teammates. If we consider the ideal acceptance as the energy of a “yes, and…” and a block as that of a “no,” the wimp splits the difference and is usually denoted as a “yes, but…” The “but” in this case usually provides conditions, or modifiers or postponements, all of which can have the tendency to whittle away the momentum and potential of the scene. I often use the image of someone at the gym who doesn’t frequent it often (which would be me) and as a result struggles to lift the weights. One who wimps in a scene is someone who is equally unable to lift their weight and commit to the actions as they are unfolding.
As we become more experienced (and proficient?) as improvisers, the ways in which wimping can infect our work can become more subtle. You may be avoiding the actual “yes, but…” but now fall into other performance patterns that have a similar energy-sapping effect. So for new and seasoned improvisers alike, I offer the following warning signs that you may need to return to the improv gym for a few extra rotations…
Signs You Might be Wimping
1.) You like to discuss, at length, others’ offers. I’ve written about the trap of waffling, the sixth commandment, and this is the word-lovers most likely wimping approach. Our partner makes a choice and we then verbally weigh the pros and cons, point out inconsistencies or potential fallacies, or just generally stall the action with our language. More times than not this will have the probably unconscious but desired effect of postponing or dismissing the new idea that might have pushed us onto a path hitherto unexplored.
2.) Your response has an “or” energy. It can be hard to let go of a preconceived notion or idea for a scene, and if we’re not careful we can use the preferred language of improv in ways that undermine its message or intent. If my partner, for example, offers “Let’s go to the movies,” and I respond with “Yes, and let’s go to the museum first!” my “and” is really operating as an “or”. I’m providing an alternative rather than supporting the instigating offer and the scene is now more likely to focus on the museum rather than the suggested movie theatre.
3.) Your standard scenic energy is deadpan. As is the case with most of these foundational improv tools, they are as much about how we say something as they are about what we say. Our words might appear accepting, but if we routinely withhold our emotional storehouse, it is likely that we are not fully committing to the energy of our scene work. Of course a deadpan character might be the pitch perfect choice for a specific scene, but if you fall into this stance often it’s likely that it has become a mechanism for holding your partner’s choices away at arm’s length.
4.) You stood (largely still) for the whole scene. Just as a deadpan character has a tendency to limit the emotional exchanges and depth of a scene, a reluctance to fully engage your whole body might indicate that you are resisting the physical gifts of your fellow players. Not all premises will invite crawling through escape tunnels being chased by rabid rats, but just as we can deflect verbal offers and potential, so too can we ignore or dismiss ways to truly “yes, and…” the physical world as it unfolds before us.
5.) You end scenes largely as you started them. As we approach the final commandments, they all tend to inform each other and this observation very much snugs into the fifth commandment that promotes being changed in our scenes and craft. If it’s not uncommon for you to play characters who, as the scene comes to a close, have not transformed, tilted or developed, this may be a sign that you are not fully taking on the choices and endowments of your peers. For those of us who tend towards high status characters, this can be a particular trap as such a position can almost empower us to rebuke or brush off ideas that may not align with our own expectations.
6.) Your scenes routinely end up where you hoped/planned they would. Again, in a nutshell, if this is your norm, then you’re probably not really embracing the ideas of those you play with to the fullest extent possible. If you’re not being surprised, you’re not paying attention.
The Bigger Picture
And this returns us to the initial phrasing of this commandment in that “our true self” in the cases listed above is probably performing from a place of control and fear, and that need for safety is what our potentially ingenious wimping strategies are revealing to our fellow players and audience. If you recognize yourself in some of these patterns (and I surely do) it can be helpful to recommit to simply prioritizing and using new ideas as they emerge. You can: 1.) reduce your reliance on language; 2.) follow your partner’s idea before your own; 3.) explore characters with a wider emotional range; 4.) begin scenes in unexpected physical positions; 5.) invert your status tendencies and embrace comeuppances; and 6.) spend scenes exclusively building on the ideas of your teammates.
Let’s all strive to lift our appropriate weight in our scenes together.
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