Here’s a bit of Del Close wisdom:
Nothing we say to each other is innocent of emotional manipulation. Everything that we do on stage is to affect each other in some way… Sometimes I suggest we perform on stage as though we are a whole bunch of raving paranoids. With these paranoid adjustments, nothing I hear is going to be simple. Nothing you say to me is going to be accepted at face value. Ohh? It always means something else.
We are all a bunch of raving paranoids, if you think about it, on stage and off. We never accept what someone else tells us at face-value; we always expect that there’s more to it, some underlying meaning.
Why? Because we’ve come to understand that we have to read sub-text because people never fully say what they mean. There’s so much more going on inside that black box of our mind that never fully gets out. Now given the variability of the accuracy with which we mentally simulate about others, it would make sense if we were just more explicit with each other. Why aren’t we? I have no idea. Maybe we think we are?
I watched the movie Adam the other day. It’s about the romantic relationship of this guy with Asperger’s syndrome. It’s a really great watch; I highly recommend. But one symptom of Asperger’s is trouble decoding social cues. His girlfriend was upset one night and he said to her, “I know you’re upset, but I do not know what I should do.” She said, “It’d be nice if you could give me a hug.” But with Adam, she had to be even more explicit. “Adam. I’d like you to give me a hug now.”
In improv, we have to say what we mean. For some reason, even on stage, we hide behind metaphors and subtext. But there, it’s the most crucial that we’re communicating with each other. If we’re in an opener and we want everyone to start doing the same thing as us, why don’t we just tell them? The openers are for the improvisers, not the audience. They’re for us to get on the same page and to generate content for our shows. And why should that only be true for openings? I was in a scene a few weeks ago where I thought the other woman on stage was my lesbian lover, and she thought she was my roommate. Hey, either one worked in the scene, but we were not behaving in a cohesive manner because neither of us ever clarified. Would it really have been that difficult for me to say, “Oh, baby, blahblahblah” and put my hand on her arm? That would work, no? Or couldn’t she have said “You know, as your roommate, I feel obliged to tell you that blahblahblah”? Both are subtle, but say exactly what we mean.
Now just because someone does not have Asperger’s does not know that they understand what you want. If you really want someone to know what you mean, you need to say it. Be explicit. My friend E upset me a bit the other day. She knew why – I had misunderstood her intent. It forced her to be explicit (“I don’t want to upset you. If something is important to you, it is important to me. I had thought that doing x was not a good idea because y.”) but it also forced me to be upfront with my own emotions. (“Yes, but I think x is good because z. And I am glad that you told me that you didn’t mean to upset me and that you knew why you had, because I was afraid that we were out of touch or that I was overreacting.”) One of my strongest relationships is with E because we’re able to talk to each other about what is really important, and tell each other what we need, rather than getting bogged down in subtleties. We confront each other if something is wrong because it’s better to talk about it than let it simmer.
The other day, I finally took a page out of my own book and was upfront with myself about what I want. It felt awesome. Let’s see if I can do that in my improv class tonight.