"I stopped doing improv about 5 months ago. Just like that. Cold turkey. It happened more or less just after I came back from a 5 week long summer intensive course at the iO in Chicago, one of the most exciting places to study improv in the US, or anywhere in the world. Up until that point, I had been doing improv pretty much constantly since I first dipped my toe in its murky yet thrilling waters in June 2010. I can still recall the elation I felt after that first class, which left me with spirits soaring high above the roof of Camden's St Pancras Community Centre. I realised almost immediately, after years and hundreds of pounds wasted on the fruitless search for that elusive “thing” that could provide me with an outlet for my creative energies, that I was onto something. It felt as if I was the first and only person in the world to have discovered something as tranformational and exhilarating that I truly believed that I, like the doomed protagonists in the film They Shoot Horses Don't They, would never be able to stop.
So what was it that caused me to give up something that had become such a central part of my life, both creative and social? How do I now find myself struggling with the desire to go back, but uncertain as to where it might lead me and terrified of rejoining the fray?
I think that for me, as with many of my other endeavours, both creative and professional, my love of improv was ultimately sabotaged by an overwhelming fear of failure and of my own perceived shortcomings at this highly self-revealing art form. It's not the first time that I've started pursuing something with great enthusiasm and determination, only to find, further on down the line, that something is holding me back from taking that vital next step. That something being myself. We're all familiar with the accusation that we are our worst enemies, but in my case, I definitely was. I think that my stint in Chicago, although unforgettable and life-changing (largely down to the magical staff and fellow classmates at iO), came slightly too early in my improv journey. I was still too vulnerable to my own searing self-disapproval, and being thrust into a group of extremely talented and confident people led me down the dead-end path of making unfavourable comparisons with everyone else, rather than focusing on what it was doing for me, both as a human being and a performer. If only I had been able to chill out, have fun and remember why I had started doing improv in the first place, then I think I would have returned still brimming with the enthusiasm of an improv ingenue.
So that brings me to the question of what useful lessons can be learnt from my experience, to avoid coming up against the same psychological brick wall that I ended up slamming into? My one piece of advice, to paraphrase the words of latter-day philosophers Take That, would be: never forget why you started doing improv in the first place. To have fun, to meet people, to challenge yourself and your own expectations of yourself, to connect with yourself and others in ways that can sometimes be unbearably visceral, to laugh until you are doubled over in pain and can hardly breathe. And many countless more. So if your own inner critic (or the man with the clipboard as improv guru Steve Roe would say) ever gets in the way again, just tell him to F..K THE F..K OFF!"