ABOUT THE EGO - IN IMPROV, THEATRE (AND LIFE) (JUN 2018)
written by Thomas Chemnitz
In the now 30 years of my acting career, I have always suffered from colleagues, who ruthlessly lived out their ego on stage (mostly men by the way). For me, theatre was always about playing with, not against each other. Yet to be honest, the reason why I suffered so was that my own ego felt suppressed by them. Even more, their success seemed to justify their behaviour, for mostly the audience and directors gave more positive response to them than to me, which brought the leading parts to them and anger and envy to me. Of course I`d have to lie, if I said that I have no ego as an actor. Every actor needs it, why else would he voluntarily go on stage and be watched by others? Every person wants to be loved and appreciated, an actor even more so on stage. Yet it´s all about the right balance of ego.
When I discovered improv, it felt like a huge liberation in terms of the ego. In two ways, actually: first, improv really is about playing together, about saying »YES« to the situation, to your partner and his ideas. In order to do this successfully, I have to push down my ego (which can be quite a liberation). On the other hand, improv is also about the »AND«, about my move, my creativity, my ideas. In this sense, in improv my ego is more liberated than in normal acting work, where I have to follow the ideas (and the ego) of the writer and the director. In improv, I am actor, author and director in one person – how great for my ego! And how terrible for my colleagues on stage, if I am not able to put my ego into service: I am serving the story, I am serving the moment, I am serving my partner(s) on stage. There is this improv wisdom: measure your success in improv by how much your partner(s) enjoyed being with you on stage. I think this pretty much says it all. For no one likes to be on stage with someone, who constantly pushes in his great ideas, without recognizing what the story and the partner(s) really need at this moment. And you`re really happy about a partner, who has ideas and uses them to strengthen and support the story, the scene and your character.
The ego-theme can also be detected in the improv school, though our students are for the most part no actors and don´t intend to become one. Yet there are those students, who love to discover their creativity, their funni- and playfulness and feel the urge to show this to everybody all the time. Their learning topic is to put their ego into the above mentioned service. And there are those, who listen a lot to their inner critic: »I am not as good as...«, »I am not so funny«, »I don`t know, if this is such a good idea...«. Their learning topic should be to strenghten their improv-ego and go forward when it`s their turn.
Going forward and enriching the moment, high-status and low-status, strong emotions and peaceful moments – good (improv) theatre always needs both. Good life, too.
Maybe this month you put your focus on that part, that is more difficult for you. Have fun with it!