You are on stage trying to look out at the audience, but the spotlight blinds you. As you stand there, you realize that you can’t remember what comes next.
“Uh, what’s my line?” you ask, to which an offstage whisper answers, “Get a job.”
Phew, okay, you can do that. You go through the motions, sit at the interview table, sign an offer letter, and the play moves along for a while more until, once again, you forget. “Err… Line?”
“Buy a house,” the voice prompts.
Oh, that’s right. You find a big house on set and settle in, flashing your new keys at the audience. You fill it with Ikea furniture and that one armchair you still have from your college house. You are miming mowing the lawn when you hesitate.
“Psst,” you whisper out of the corner of your mouth, “Line, please!”
“Get married.” You get on one knee. The audience seems to enjoy it. They mouth along to the words in their predictability. The next time you forget your line, you stop.
You don’t even have to ask this time.
You don’t move.
The voice hisses it at you again, but the next line doesn’t feel right.
You shape your own, hardly believing the words that come out of your mouth.
“I’m going to move,” across the country. To save the sea turtles in Costa Rica. To study Russian in a city named Новосиби́рское водохрани́лище. You’re going to quit and figure it out as you go.
Your adlib surprises Grandma in the front row. Others laugh nervously.
They think you’re joking.
Excitement bubbles up in you, even as your fellow actors shoot looks at each other, what do we do now? A few of them play along while others throw up their hands, stalking offstage to complain to the director. By now you have gone completely off-script.
Does this seem like you?
People will keep trying to tell you what to do next. What will make you successful. What you can buy to make your life more enjoyable.
Nobody makes you do these things, but they are the voices from stage right, telling you how the script should go. The script is not inherently bad, but some of the lines feel unnatural to you. An actor performs best when he or she says a line with conviction. He’s practiced it. She owns it.
Once the script is flipped, you are improving. The first rule of improv, any drama teacher will tell you (mine with tattooed eyeliner, shawls draped over her shoulders, and a cackle that made you love her) is that you must reply with ‘yes, and…’
You might tell me, “Wow Mechanic! You are a globally recognized, award-winning writer,” (Remember, improv can be fantastical) to which I might reply, “Yes, and Anna Kendrick asked me for my autograph last week.”
When most people consider their own money management skills, they respond with “No, because.”
No, because I’m bad with money.
No, because I have kids.
No, because it means eating rice and beans.
No, because I’m not an engineer or a doctor.
That’s not you. You’re a master at improv. You flip the script.
Yes, and I can take control of my money. (Your drama teacher claps in delight)
Yes, and I can save more.
Yes, and I will dream big.
Yes, and that script was not written with me in mind.
So when it’s time to take a bow, you have made the audience gasp in surprise. Some even stood up and left. But no one can deny that you made the show your own. You adlibbed and improved and sang and danced and joked and cartwheeled across the stage. You made the show come alive. And when the curtain closes, you won’t read what the critics wrote, or hear a standing ovation, but that is okay.
You were the star of your own show.