The Drive Home

A little actor/improviser shop talk for you, in preparation for tonight’s show.

Reminder to self: Thinking of funnier/cleverer/betterer things I should’ve said on the drive home from a show or shoot is a waste of time.

This is fairly common among performers. I’ve done it plenty of times. I hear others talking about doing it themselves. It can feel like constructive analysis, and to a point it might be helpful for the future. But it’s very easy to get carried away and the truth of it is that it comes from a place of insecurity. Because this only happens when I feel like I wasn’t good enough.

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating blind self-congratulations devoid of the reality of how a show or shoot actually went. It’s important and helpful to look at choices made and see how they effected performances.

But when a funnier line pops into your head on the drive home, and your mind plays over and over how you should’ve said that line instead of what you actually said, that doesn’t really serve any purpose beyond heading to crazy town. For improvisation, when every show is completely different and the odds of the exact same situation presenting itself again is incredibly small, it’s basically a useless activity.

For example: OK, the next time I’m playing Hannibal Lecter who has to babysit a monkey’s carrot garden, when the baby carrots scream for more ice cream, I will say “I’ll make carrot cake out of you!” because it references that earlier scene about the carrot cake maker. Huh? That scene is never ever going to happen again! Why am I wasting my time dissecting it line by line? Unless I’m going to adapt it into something scripted like a sketch or short film, re-writing or punching up dialogue to something so temporary doesn’t help me become a stronger performer.

So how to shut off the loop in my head? Instead I focus on slightly broader questions. Was I listening? Was I open to the first opportunity to explore something potentially funny or interesting? Did I make strong choices? How were my characters? When did the laughs happen? Was I able to heighten or at least repeat what I was doing when laughs happened? This line of thinking is much more constructive as long as I answer honestly for myself.

If that doesn’t work, turn on the radio real loud and sing along even louder as a weird character with a strange but very specific voice – but make sure you get the words exactly right. Maybe you’ll find a new character you can use, and it breaks you out of that cyclical thinking. And maybe you’ll make the person in the next car laugh.

Let me know if you have any tricks for this. I’d love to hear them.

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4 comments

  1. My trick: write down everything you want to improve next time as well as what went well. Keep a diary of that sort and then turn on the music in the car and forget about it! I guess director pitches work the same way as improv performances.

    Thank you Corey; this advice is invaluable for any performer, artist, actor, director, job seeker…..

    1. Thank you, Cindy!

      Great idea! That reminds me of a similar idea from a friend of mine. Keep a journal/diary of victories – great to check when feeling like nothing is working right. And then a companion journal/diary of things to work on and how to improve.

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