Every month we invite our readers to pitch us articles on a theme revealed in our regular newsletter. Find out what our next theme is by subscribing to our newsletter below. This month our theme was ‘Back to School’ and Kat Coyle wrote about how those butterflies in your belly never quite go away with every new beginning or return…
‘Back to school on Monday!’
I used to dread hearing this proclamation the week before the big return. My friends and I would grumble about the end of our hedonistic summer nights and a return to the subjects we hated. But the truth was that I secretly enjoyed school – in fact, I was desperate to quench my deepening thirst for knowledge and to build on what I’d learned the year before.
But as the big day loomed, I wondered: What if I’ve forgotten everything? What if the high marks I received last year were a terrible mistake, soon to be rectified during exam season? And the most terrifying prospect of all: what if I disappointed my teachers and parents?
The emotions I experienced during the gradual return to improv comedy hasn’t been so different from my schooldays. I had practiced the craft and said ‘yes’ to everything for a year before my first live shows. I had shaken off imposter syndrome when I realized people actually laughed at the things I said – it felt like I had passed the final exam!
In the early months of the pandemic, I participated in Zoom shows, but I left them feeling lethargic, rather than energized. As everyone tried to navigate a new world, I found that most online shows I attended asked the audience to remain muted during scenes. This posed a problem because comedians and performers depend on audience feedback. They aren’t laughing? We need to switch direction or end scene. They are laughing? Great! Let’s keep up the momentum. As I was unable to gauge the audience accurately, nor participate properly as an audience member, my enthusiasm for the craft I’d loved dwindled.
Then one night earlier this year, my former group decided to get together online. I contacted my teacher: ‘I’d love to come! But I don’t want to let you all down.’ Subtext: I’m worried I’ve forgotten everything I ever learned. Like any good teacher, she reassured me and basking in the glow of her blind faith, I gave it another shot.
So what happened in my first session back? Did my classmates point and laugh in tinny voices through their laptops? Was I declared an outcast, never to darken the door of any improv show online or otherwise again?
Er, no. It turned out that everything I had learned resurfaced. I even coached a couple of beginners during pair work, which further reinforced that the magic was not lost!
I realized was that while a lot of people haven’t lost their skills, they have lost confidence. With the opportunity to practice live comedy removed, it can be difficult to remember how capable we really are. After all, we see ourselves reflected in others, and I know that I’m playing my part well when my improv group works in harmony together.
I have only been to one in-person event so far this year. It took place in a park for maximum open-air safety. It felt different from how it felt before and different to online – everything was new again. It was also exciting, nerve-wracking and charged with an energy that can’t be replicated on a device.
Returning to the stage is a lot like going back to school after a hiatus. You worry you’ll forget everything you knew, but sometimes it is exactly what you need to remember who you are alongside a community of people who have all been riding out the same storm.