Once upon a time, there was a guy named Rob Schiffmann. He was a twenty-something year old improviser and performed regularly as such. One night, after a particularly long day of teaching and performing, Rob fell asleep on stage during an improvised scene. I mean, he LITERALLY fell asleep on stage. Obviously, this was not ideal. However, it does point to something that is, or can be, a positive trait in any performer.
Setting the Scene
The scene had begun. It was a scene set in a bar and I (Rob) was simply playing another patron at the bar while the two ‘main characters’ talked about whatever nonsense they were talking about. At a certain point in the scene, violence broke out and I was, as often happens to innocent bystanders, accidentally punched in the head. I fell to the stage and I lay there. And lay there. And lay there. Then, the audience was applauding and I realized that while playing someone who had been knocked out, I fell asleep. Yes. I freakin’ fell asleep on freakin’ stage. I mean, who does that?!?! I’ll tell you who…
The Balance of Comfort vs. Professionalism
‘The reason I fell asleep during that show (apart from being tired after my long day) was that I had hit a level of comfort with my show that allowed me to be in a place where I was not working. I mean, I WAS working in the sense that I was on stage and doing my job BUT I was not working in the sense that I was not doing the improviser’s main job: to keep myself on the tightrope and to stay present while walking the wire. I could have explored what it meant to be hit on the head while lying on the floor ‘unconscious’. Instead, I just lay there and let the scene happen around me. I became passive and thus, I passed out.
Since this happened, I have done my best to always remain present (and conscious) on stage. This presence, even when the moment seemingly calls for inactivity, is what brings us our greatest discoveries. Comfort is a powerful and invaluable tool for any performer but it comes with the potential for complacency. We must be comfortable with our material, our context, our skill set but we must keep ourselves active in discovery within those areas. We must perform with the uninhibited gifts of sleep but without it’s disconnected non-activity.
What have YOU done on stage or at work that you maybe should NOT have and what was actually good about it?
Want Rob to come wake up the audience for your upcoming meeting? Send Rob and email to quit dreaming and to make this this a reality!!