Faith & Improv

I keep putting myself in these high-stress situations, where I have to perform in some way. Whether it’s the Charisma Arts boot camp I took last year (where I had to approach girls in bars and engage them in compelling conversations), or singing karaoke in front of friends and strangers, or taking an improv comedy class where I have to act out a scene in front of other students completely off-the-cuff. These were all very tough things to do. But what I’ve learned through all of them was how to just go and do it. These things have taught me boldness and confidence in every situation.

The boot camp was probably the hardest of the three situations I mentioned. There’s nothing harder than trying to win over an audience that is hostile towards you. Beautiful girls in bars have a defensive shield around them, and they’re skeptical of every guy who talks to them. They rightly assume the guys are hitting on them. Which makes engaging them in an entertaining conversation that much more difficult.

Karaoke was the easiest. All you need is the boldness to get up on stage. You don’t have to worry about what to say, because the words are scrolling on the teleprompter. You just have to be willing to put yourself on display and, in the worst-case scenario, look like a fool in front of your friends. I had no problem doing that.

Improv was somewhere in the middle. At the first class, I was hesitant to put myself out on display in front of 10 strangers. But after a few classes, I began trusting my classmates and actually liked them a lot as people. So performing in class became very easy. And to be honest, I just acted like myself during skits – so it wasn’t very difficult. Performing in class was very comfortable, because both the other students and the teachers are rooting for your success. They want you to do well. It’s a very positive audience.

That changed a little when I was asked to perform in front of a real audience last week during the FIST competition. I didn’t have a problem saying yes to my teacher, who asked me to join her 3-person team on the eve of their performance. After all, improv was much easier than the Charisma Arts boot camp – and if I could survive that, I could survive any performance situation.

I also had something within me during the FIST tournament that I didn’t have in those other past experiences. I had a calming faith that it would all work out well.

Those who know me well know that I’m a committed Christian. Those who find out I’m a Christian after getting to know me well are often surprised.

Not long ago (maybe a month or so), I decided to unplug from many of the distractions of my life. (I didn’t do this specifically for Lent – although the timing was perfect.) I unsubscribed from news, technology, and political podcasts. I stopped reading blogs and news sites. I didn’t watch television. I spent much less time on the Internet. And I made other sacrifices.

Instead, I spent my free time exercising and reading the Bible. I wanted to read through all 66 books by the end of the year.

By the time I reached Exodus (the second book), I had already found several parallels to my experiences with improv. There were many instances where God told people to go somewhere inconvenient to accomplish some task. And not only that, but the circumstances were so unlikely that the task could be accomplished, that the only explanation could be that it was God who made it happen. Noah and the flood. Abraham having a son. Joseph becoming the governor of Egypt. Moses leading Israel out of Egypt. God accomplished impossible tasks through people who were willing to go.

When I was asked to fill in for a member of my teacher’s improv team in the FIST tournament, I said yes. I didn’t make excuses that I was just a beginner, or that it was really inconvenient for me to get to DC multiple times a week. I just said yes. Here am I.

Even though our one & only practice — a few hours before our performance on Saturday — started off very badly (we even considered forfeiting), we eventually gelled and felt good about going into the evening’s performance. As we stood backstage ready to run out to perform, I didn’t feel anxiety. I just kept talking to God saying, “You brought me here for a reason. I came, but this is your show. Put the words into my mouth, and I’ll say them.” And I had faith that God would take care of me – that I had nothing to worry about. I also knew, without a doubt, we would win.

We weren’t great, but we did win. And it was awesome. We were congratulated and met with smiles from everyone backstage and everyone associated with WIT.

It was an impossible situation… A team who hadn’t practice together prior to the day of the performance (and included two total beginners) could go out and perform better than a level 3 team. It was awesome.

And all I had to do was go.

We didn’t win the next round. Everything seemed kind of off that day. Or rather, everything seemed normal. We felt like a team who hadn’t practice together more than two days. We felt like a team that included two total beginners.

Our second performance really put the improbability of our first victory into perspective. Which made the reason behind our victory much more obvious to me.

After all of this was over, I read a passage in Exodus that sums up my view of faith’s integration with improv…

Then Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before nor since You have spoken to Your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

– Exodus 4:10-12

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