Ew, it’s group scenes. Group scenes are the absolute worst. OK, no, they're not actually the worst, that's a bit of an unfair exaggeration. I'm sorry group scenes, I didn't mean to hate on you. Let's try and start this post again. Group scenes are...challenging? Yeah, yeah, that sounds better, I'll go with that.
Groups scenes are indeed challenging, especially if you're anything like me: quiet, introverted, and at times a little bit socially awkward. For those of us improvisers who fall into that category of human, we can sometimes lose our voices in the cacophony of the group scene. This happens to me a lot, not just in improv but also in group conversations in life. Frankly, it’s the lifelong struggle of being the overly polite, quiet kid. Yes, shocker, I was the quiet kid and now I am the quiet young adult, and in group scenes, I’m the quiet young adult improviser who tends to just hang back and is happy to let everyone else do all the talking.
For me, speaking up in a group scene often induces the same anxious feelings as trying to merge a car onto a busy highway. All the other cars are zooming by and it's crowded and chaotic, and for the unobtrusive quiet person it’s easier and a lot less painful to just wait for an opening than assert yourself in and accidentally cut someone off or worse, making a messy driving situation even messier (I also suffer from driving anxiety, in case you couldn’t tell. It’s fantastic.). When it comes to being assertive, I'm definitely on board the struggle bus. As a people pleaser and rather passive individual, I tend to hold back from speaking up a lot. A LOT. I hold back, even though I know it's probably not a good thing to do, in order to avoid any uncomfortable feelings or confrontation.
One particular instance, in which I went out of my way to avoid asserting myself, sticks out in my mind. I went to this Mexican restaurant that had just opened down the street from where I live. I had ordered a bowl of tortilla soup, thinking, "Soup should be good. Nobody can f*** up soup, right?" Wrong! So wrong. Unfortunately, to my surprise, you can indeed f*** up soup. I could only describe what was served to me as overly salted dishwater garnished with floating bits of stale Mission chips. Pretty gross.
When the waiter came to our table and asked us the standard "Is everything all right here?" question, I should have said something like, "No, everything is not all right, Mr. Waiter. This concoction tastes like the chef put the sweat and tears of his dying abuelita in a bowl, scooped up the three-week-old Tostitos crumbs off his stoner friend's couch, called it soup, and then thought, yeah that's good for human consumption." But I didn't say any of that. I didn't speak up. Instead, I sat there and suffered my sweaty, dishwater soup in silence. And that’s on me, folks.
But now I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to change and grow and be a better human and fellow improviser.
Although my default setting is to sit back and listen to and absorb everything/everyone going on around me, content with not uttering a single word for a solid chunk of time, I’m working on pushing myself to speak up, or, as my teacher Kyle Austin phrases it, “bulldoze” my way into a group conversation. I’m now envisioning a little Kyle Austin/Jiminy Cricket character on my shoulder telling me, “Be the bulldozer, Lauren. Be the bulldozer. You can do it!”
Now by bulldozing I don’t mean suddenly giving myself the license to be rude and pushy, ignoring what others have to say and bullying my way in just to hear my own voice. Geez, let’s be real, people. Nobody likes a super-aggressive, attention-grabbing, conversation-stealing Biff Tannen of a human...unless of course you’re improvising a scene from Back to the Future, which could be the exception here. But what I mean by bulldozing is this: Allow myself the opportunity to contribute when I know that I have something worth saying.
In other words, when you got something to say, don’t hold back. Go ahead and assert yo bad self. Your scene partners really do want to know what’s on your mind (at least that’s what my teachers and coaches keep telling me) so you don’t always have to politely wait your turn to say something. In fact, Dallas Comedy House OG, Chad Haught, will tell you that politeness and improv don’t often go hand in hand. The overly polite, quiet kid improviser, who is all too eager to let anyone and everyone else take the lead, doesn’t help drive a scene forward by hanging back and keeping her ideas to herself.
As the quiet kid, you're the observer and the analyzer. Your mind is constantly engaged in what's taking place around you, allowing you to view the scene from a different perspective than your more extroverted peers. This means that your contributions to the scene are indispensable, because no one else will have the same voice or the same views as you. You're one of a kind baby! As my homie Dr. Seuss puts it, "There is no one alive who is youer than you." And that is a pretty magnificent, cool thing to be.
So when it comes to group scenes, be respectful, be generous, but don’t worry about being polite. If you got something to say, just say it. (I know, totally easier said than done, btw.) Be the bulldozer. I think rapper A$AP Rocky said it best, “Wild for the night. F*** being polite. I’m going in.”
Are you a quiet kid? Do you have any stories from being the quiet kid? Do you have any stories from being the NOT so quiet kid? Do you just maybe want to say hello and tell me what the worst soup you ever ate was? Then put it in the comments bellows, please and thank you! All thoughts, comments, questions, and tellings of worst soups ever eaten are welcome!
Lauren Levine is currently a Level 5 improv and Sketch 2 student at DCH. When she is not trying to come up with witty things for this blog, she is a freelance writer and editor, an amateur photographer, a Zumba-enthusiast, a dog lover, and an 80s movie nerd. In addition, she enjoys all things Muppet-related, the smell after a rainstorm, and people with soft hands.