As long as I can remember my father has asked his students to find a state of "relaxed readiness" in their improv work. I can't say how he came to that term, but I can say it's one of my favorites and that I have adopted it as both a personal mantra and a teaching tool. The term means just as it states: Be calm and confidant while also aware of everything and ready for anything. Simple. Yes, if you're a Buddhist monk.And even a Buddhist monk works hard to get there. No one is born directly into Nirvana, (or something like that).
Relaxed readiness is a skill some achieve quickly and with grace and others tumble over for years, some never actualizing it at all. We come to the improv culture, wholly indoctrinated in a wildly different way of seeing, feeling and being. We are asked as we learn to improvise to shed this skin, pull apart our wiring, let down all of our walls and open ourselves to YES AND! And we do our very best to do that, because we are eager and enthusiastic, most of us. But when we are beginning to navigate scene work, to build stories, to create whole worlds from scratch, and when we are doing this with other people who come from other backgrounds with minds as full as our own... well, it's hard to be relaxed.
The excited tension in our bodies manifests itself in different ways for everyone, so there is not one simple answer for overcoming it. Some are tense because they are aiming for a specific predetermined target and they're struggling to keep everyone straddling their arrow. Some are just sure they'll fuck it up for everyone else, so their tension draws their jaw closed tight and makes their bodies stiff. Some are so tense that their lose all control and every single thought they've ever had races out of them, they're arms flailing wildly in desperation. (I've always liked those guys because I really get that. You're scared? Freak out. It makes sense to me.) The tension tightens the muscles in our body, it stifles our ability to truly listen to what's around us, to see and feel what others are doing. It closes that magic portal between the improviser and the universe, from which all the gifts fall. So there we are, disconnected and often disenchanted, creating disconnected, disenchanting scene work. Unless we find the sweet spot, the improv honey hole of emotional and creative balanced, "relaxed readiness".
As I said before, there is no one way to achieve "relaxed readiness". But for me the path is lined with trust and commitment. When I step on stage I TRUST my partner, I TRUST our ability to create together, I TRUST the audience, the stage, the air I breath, and most of all I trust myself to be calm. And then I am. Then once a story begins to unfold, I COMMIT. I COMMIT to my partner, I COMMIT to our creation, I COMMIT to the audience, to the stage, to the air I breath. I COMMIT to the character I am playing, running everything I see, say and do through a filter of who they are, how they move and think, what they need. And then I am aware. With every offer, every move and exchange, I LISTEN. I LISTEN with my whole body. And I only respond through that character filter because that character knows all the answers, it is their story, their experience after all. I am relaxed into the work, and I am ready for anything.I know when I've reached this place because I feel more ALIVE here that at any other time. Which leads me to another mantra I cherish, a mantra I often say to myself right before hitting the stage, right before teaching a class, right as my day begins, "BE ALIVE IN THIS".