Befriending Fear by Evey McKellar

It still scares me to go out on stage.

My first improv showcase was on a Friday night. The week before, I sought out all the stage time I could find. I went to the Tuesday night Improv jam (like Karaoke but with Improvised comedy). I was in the Student Lottery Wednesday night (comedy students, sign up - it’s amazing!). By Friday, I felt only slightly less nervous to be heading out on stage in front of all the friends and family our class had invited.

A veteran comedian gave me this advice: There’s nothing past the edge of the stage. Up there, it’s just you and your classmates.

I found this helpful, and proceeded to prepare my friends and family for being completed ignored until after the show.  “Thank you for coming. I will look forward to seeing you after the showcase. Until then, when I’m on stage, you’re dead to me.”

To me, there was nothing beyond the end of that stage for the duration of our showcase. And I needed that.

The showcase was a blast. The audience cheered, but my favorite part was the ongoing game my classmates, teachers, and I played on stage for half an hour. In these people I trusted that my courage would not be wasted,.

Fortunately in our showcase, our audience that night was filled with the folks who wanted to support us. But not all audiences are the excited family and friends ready to see your very first level one showcase.  

Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, entitled her third book based on a quote by Theodore Roosevelt. He says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

In an interview, she references the proverbial arena, talking about how there will always be hecklers in that crowd. There will always be those who say you cannot do this. But she reminds that there is always a row of people that have your back. Focus on them.

Through improv, through this community that challenges and supports each other, we are able to explore and make mistakes.

We step in without knowing what we’ll say, we leap in and make eye contact to find the answer will be in what we co-create with our scene partners.

Security is abandoned for new discoveries.

Comfort is sacrificed for the sake of exploring new places and getting to know ourselves in a new way.

It’s incredible. It’s terrifying. And it’s the way we grow.

Through our bravery, we stretch and emerge larger and brighter than we were before.

I know that upon that stage, there are others who face the same fear, that I can count on them to show up.

I’m still afraid when I go out on stage. And I think that’s just the way of it: not to become immune to fear, but on the contrary.

Improv is teaching us to befriend fear.

Evey McKellar is a Level 3 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso.