Welcome back to the return of the highly popular feature How Improv Changed My Life. We had such a great response to this the first time round that we have listened to your demands and now have more stories coming your way! To welcome us back into the world of stories, we start today with an Improviser called Bryn – part of troupes such as Martian Love Affair, Doctor Twoprov and QI: Queer Improv.
How Improv Changed My Life – Bryns Story
I got into improv at a transformative stage in my life.
I moved to London back in 2011 to take a job with a consulting company. It’s one of those jobs that just sucks down all your time, and depending on the one you end up working for, a stifling career. I ended up in a bad way (health-wise). I was barely sleeping, eating terribly, I had difficulties walking and thanks to a 60-hr week I barely had time to socialise. I’d crash into bed on Friday, wake up with no energy on Saturday (so spend most of the day indoors), get to Sunday and need to either get some work done for Monday, or catch up with all the other things I had to do ready for the week ahead. Quitting though was still a surprisingly hard decision.
I got to the end of 2013 and resolved to go back in the new year and stick to 40hrs a week (Which I failed at within days). Late one Friday, my boss told me I wouldn’t make the next grade, but if I applied myself, I’d make a great senior manager in the next round of promotions the year after. I already hated what I’d let that job do to me, so the idea of having to double-down on it to make the next grade was just horrifying.
I left consulting for another job and found I had evenings again and no work to do at the weekends. I started pitching around for stuff I could do. I’d already started knitting to manage stress, so I worked on trying to do some more creative things (some of which worked, some didn’t).
Despite all this “recovery”, I still had a small voice in the back of my mind – a tiny scumbag voice that spent its time making me feel horrible about myself (and still tries/does on occasion). The pitching around doing random things didn’t do much to address health issues, and didn’t really do much to deal with the perennial enquiries. “Helpful” bits of advice were forthcoming… stuff like “If you lost some weight, then you’d be able to find someone” was great fodder for the scumbag voice.
Fast-forward a bit to January 2015, I was at a low ebb. I’d decided to stop taking some medication I was being prescribed for joint issues, and I’d moved into (what is to be honest) a crappy flat in Hackney. I’d practically ruined Christmas for the whole family by being a miserable bastard the whole way through (I contend now that was largely a side-effect of coming off the medication). The scumbag voice pretty much called the shots. It kept telling me I shouldn’t bother my friends with my problems, that going to them was dumping my stuff on theirs and would make me a bad friend.
My therapist had suggested I look around for improv classes during our sessions. She’d suggested it’d be a useful mindfulness-type technique. I ended up booking one after a drunken evening online (“wtf lol you’re going to look like an idiot” said the scumbag voice), and attended my first in early February (taught by the amazing Jinni Lyons). Forcing myself to be present in the moment and revelling in messing up was the antithesis of the old “consultant” thing of hedging and risk assessment. It forced me to say to the scumbag voice “I’m too busy doing this thing… bother me later”.
That led to a bit of self-therapy where I started keeping a diary, where I’d track positive events in green, so if the scumbag ever resurfaced, I could re-read it and the positive stuff would jump off the page to tell it to go screw itself.
That bit of self-actualisation took a bit of a back seat to recovering from a broken leg over the summer (I rather foolishly got knocked down by a taxi). Still, I came back and dove into things again (with the support of an awesome group of classmates and a cracking teacher in Maria Peters).
The more classes, gigs & workshops I did, the better it felt. I’ve re-discovered confidence in myself, and an improved willingness to put myself out there. It helped me develop the confidence to come out to my family as bisexual, and gave me some amazing new friends.
The main thing it’s given me is a better sense of who I am. It’s helped me sort out the important things in life, and not to sweat the smaller details. I’ve learned to trust myself more, and pay less attention to the scumbag voice. I’m not there yet, but I’m still plugging away at it.
I’ve found I enjoy coming up with ridiculous stores with Martian Love Affair, a shared interest in Doctor Who with my Doctor Twoprov partner Stuart, and amazing friends in QI: Queer Improv. It’s been something I’ve found deeply rewarding. It’s pushed me to do things I never thought I’d be able to do, and I’m curious to see where it’ll take me next.