Improv Tao Te Ching

Translated from “Tao Te Ching – A New English Version” by Stephen Mitchell.

Buy it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Tao-Te-Ching-Stephen-Mitchell/dp/0060812451

 The following is a work in progress.

There are 81 sections/chapters of the Tao Te Ching.

Sometime in the future, I will have translated them all.

1.

The tao that can be told

is not the eternal Tao.

Improvisers who say that their way is the “right” way to do improv are delusional and don’t teach true improv. There’s no one right way to do improv. 

 

The name that can be named

is not the eternal name.

Improvisers who think they’ve discovered what improv is all about, rest on their laurels on stage. 

 

The unnamabale is the eternally real. 

The magic of improv can’t be summed up with rules and only one right way of doing it.

 

Naming is the origin 

of all specific things.

Giving a great name to your partner or your own character is a gift. “Specificity=Hilarity. Specificity kills ambiguity.” (Susan Messing)

 

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.* 

It’s not about being on SNL or winning an Oscar. Play for yourself and you will truly improvise.

Getting caught up in your own monkey-mind about succeeding on stage only brings suffering. Just get off when you play. (“get off” as in, do it because it gets you off, a Messing-ism)

* ( I used to fly-fish on boulders like Brad Pitt did as Paul in “A River Runs Through It.” I didn’t really want to fly-fish, I just wanted to look cool like Brad did. Therefore, I sucked at fly-fishing because I never learned that you don’t stand on a boulder in the middle of a roaring river to fly-fish if you want to catch fish. It just makes other fly-fisher-people laugh at you.)

 

Yet mystery and manifestations

arise from the same source.

This source is called darkness.

Have your characters give weight to the silence behind the silence, the brick wall behind the neon sign. Create something beautiful out of absolutely nothing.

 

Darkness within darkness.

The gateway to all understanding. 

Be calm with uncomfortableness. “If you’re uncomfortable with your character and the scene, be even more uncomfortable. Keep reinvesting in your character.” (Susan Messing) You must face that which you fear. Own it. Be calm in darkness, in nothing. Then you’ll be a great improviser.

 

2.

When people see some things as beautiful, 

other things become ugly.

When people see some things as good, 

other things become bad.

If you don’t want to play with some people because you got your butt hurt by them and you hold a grudge, you see those people as enemies.  Putting your ego in the way of improv makes you see other players as bad, and then you limit yourself with your stage time.  In addition, nobody wants to play with you because you can’t take a note and/or you are just a self-centered sensitive  baby who whines about everything. 

 

Being and non-being create each other.

Difficult and easy support each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low depend on each other.

Before and after follow each other.

If you love improv, you can play with anyone and make both of you look like “artists and heroes.” (iO trains people to treat each other like artists/heroes/geniuses on stage)  There are all kinds of energies and points of views unique to each player. There are no mistakes, only gifts to work with.

 

Therefore the Master

acts without doing anything

and teaches without saying anything.

Things arise and she lets them come;

things disappear and she lets them go.

She has but doesn’t possess,

acts but doesn’t expect.

When her work is done, she forgets it.

That’s why it lasts forever.

Good improvisers let their work speak for them, and you’re only as good as your last show. People who aspire to be good improvisers watch good improvisers and learn by that observing. Good improvisers are detached from “success”* on stage.  They play to get off and stay out of the results. The best shows are when you forget what you did afterwards because you were out of your head and too busy getting off to recall it. Improv is never seen before and never seen again, yet it is eternal. 

*(see Viola Spolin’s obstacles to improv in her book, “Improvisation for the Theater.”  Success/Failure syndrome is one of them) 

 

3.

If you over-esteem great men, 

people become powerless.

If you overvalue possessions, 

people begin to steal.

Don’t worry about not being as good as someone you want to play like. “Fuck your fear.” (Mick Napier) Be on your own improv path.  Those who think their shit doesn’t stink are the people who start pointing fingers at everything besides the common denominator (themselves) for their improv problems. If you overvalue your individual hang ups, you are stealing stage time away from yourself, because nobody wants to play with you. 

 

The Master leads 

by emptying people’s minds

and filling their cores, 

by weakening their ambition

and toughening their resolve.

He helps people lose everything 

they know, everything they desire, 

and creates confusion

in those who think that they know.

Improvisers need beginner’s mind (“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki is a great unintentional improv book.  Buy it here:  http://www.amazon.com/Zen-Mind-Beginners-Informal-Meditation/dp/0834800799) to learn and relearn the basics of improv.  You are constantly learning improv, no matter what your level of skill. If you are not learning and improving, you are resting on your laurels on stage. In my experience, the less I worried about being on SNL or “making it”, the better I played because I was playing to get off. I was playing for me.  If a student is unteachable (i.e., they can’t take a note, they tell the teacher/coach what they “were trying to do” and everyone else just didn’t get their genius choice, pointing fingers at others) the teacher may say something to the effect of, “Congratulations, you win…that is, you win the asshole of the year award.” 

 

Practice not-doing,

and everything will fall into place.

How your character does anything is how they do anything. (“How you do anything is how you do anything” by Cheri Huber is another great unintentional improv book. Buy it here:http://www.amazon.com/How-You-Do-Anything-Everything/dp/0963625551/ref=sr_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343942620&sr=1-11&keywords=cheri+huber

Doing nothing as your character is rich. Fully commit to your character. 

 

4.

The Tao is like a well:

used but never used up.

It is like the eternal void:

filled with infinite possibilities.

Improv will continually give you more joy. 

You can do anything in improv, nothing is impossible.

 

It is hidden but always present. 

I don’t know who gave birth to it.

It is older than God.

Good improv is like watching real magic and it comes from nothing.

 

5.

The Tao doesn’t take sides;

it gives birth to both good and evil.

The Master doesn’t take sides;

she welcomes both saints and sinners.

There’s no such thing as mistakes in improv. Mistakes happen in real life. The audience sees mistakes and they are happy when we incorporate them into the scene.  Mistakes must be called out and dealt with to keep the reality of what the scene is about. Don’t be afraid of mistakes, embrace them. “When you fail, fail big.” (Susan Messing) 

 

The Tao is like a bellows:

it is empty yet infinitely capable. 

The more you use it, the more it produces;

the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Improv is ethereal. You do it once and it’s over. It’s magic. The more you perform, the better you’ll be. The more you think you have it all figured out, the less you actually understand about it. 

 

Hold on to the center

Stick to the deal of the scene and play because it gets you off. 

 

6.

The Tao is called the Great Mother;

empty yet inexhaustible,

it gives birth to infinite worlds.

Improv is limitless. You can do anything on stage because you have nothing on stage. You have complete freedom on stage. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” (Kris Kristofferson)

 

It is always present within you.

You can use it any way you want.

Observing how people and yourself behave is a great improv tool.

 

7.

The Tao is infinite, eternal.

Why is it eternal?

It was never born;

thus it can never die.

Why is it infinite?

It has no desires for itself;

thus it is present for all beings.

Improv comes from nothing and ends in nothing. When you play because you love it and it gets you off, you don’t need to have the audience’s or anyone else’s approval. Play for you. When you have desire for the way a scene is supposed to go, and you can’t bend with your idea, you aren’t helping the scene, you aren’t present for it. You say no to “Yes, and” and you kill improv. 

 

The Master stays behind;

that is why she is ahead.

She is detached from all things;

that is why she is one with them.

Because she has let go of herself, 

she is perfectly fulfilled.

Good improvisers serve improv, they don’t always have to be in the spotlight. They make their partners look good. They behave as their characters would behave and base things in reality.  They don’t rely on their improviser/human monkey-mind for how the scene should go. “When I let go of who I am, I become who I might be.” – Lao Tzu (author of Tao Te Ching)

 

8.

The supreme good is like water,

which nourishes all things without trying to.

It is content with the low places that people disdain.

Thus it is like the Tao.

Improv helps you when you really want to learn it. Play low status on stage. It’s fun. “Be a loser on stage.” (Susan Messing) 

 

In dwelling, live close to the ground.

In thinking, keep to the simple.

In conflict, be fair and generous.

In governing, don’t try to control.

In work, do what you enjoy.

In family life, be completely present.

Keep scenes grounded in reality. No matter how flying-monkey it gets, it has to have a basis in it’s own reality. Try not to think on stage, just keep your character real. Agreement is implied in improv. Even when we argue on stage, we’re saying “Yes, and” to the scene. Being on the losing end of an argument is fun in improv*, it’s just improv. Don’t try to control scenes. Play in a way that makes you happy. Take care of your team on stage, treat them like family. You have to trust your team.

*(see line 3 of this section, “It is content with the low places that people disdain.”)

 

When you are content to be simply yourself

and don’t compare or compete,

everybody will respect you.

Do your own path in improv. Progress, not perfection. Even the very best improvisers are always looking to improve how they play. Get off on stage and people will want to play with you.

 

9.

Fill your bowl to the brim 

and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife 

and it will blunt.

Chase after money and security 

and your heart will never unclench.

Care about people’s approval 

and you will be their prisoner.

Over-commit to too many shows and you’ll get burnt out. It’s good to take breaks from improv if you’re overloaded. It’s just improv. It’s not about being on SNL or winning and Oscar. Desiring those kinds of results is dangerous. What happens after you get on SNL or win the Oscar? What gets you off then? Play for you. Find your own joyride in improv. Teachers all come from their unique point of view. Take pieces of wisdom from each of them and play the way that makes you happy and gets you off. Lists of rules in improv is retarded. Follow them and you’re a slave.

 

Do your work, then step back.

The only way to serenity.

Play for yourself and stay out of the results. We’re not in the results business, we’re in the playing to make ourselves happy business. The only way to truly get off.

 

10.

Can you coax your mind from its wandering 

and keep to the original oneness?

Can you let your body become 

supple as a newborn child’s?

Can you cleanse your inner vision

until you see nothing but the light?

Can you love people and lead them

without imposing your will?

Can you deal with the most vital matters 

by letting events take their course?

Can you step back from your own mind 

and thus understand all things?

In Mick Napier’s book, “Improvise: Scene From the Inside Out” (my favorite improv book) he talks about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and improv. All organized systems (the scene) tend towards chaos. Our job is to keep the focus of the scene on what it’s about. (Buy his book here: http://www.amazon.com/Improvise-Scene-Inside-Mick-Napier/dp/032500630X) It’s important that we keep our improviser monkey-mind in check and play smart. Have an untainted childlike sense of play. Children are the best players, they simply play. Keep the focus on the scene (see Napier’s 2nd Law of Thermodynamics reference) If the scene turns out different than what you thought, it’s okay, it’s just improv. Bend with what the scene calls for. Not having exposition at the top of the scene helps with that. Play slow, let the scene grow organically. Let things unfold without creating obstacles. “Life (and in this case, improv) is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu (author of Tao Te Ching)  Mike Malyar made a really good observation in his Denver Improv Podcast (listen to it here: http://denverimprov.podbean.com/) about how when he plays, half of him is seeing the scene outside of himself, seeing what the scene needs as if floating above it. I think that’s a good way of describing the last two lines of this section.

 

Giving birth and nourishing,

having without possessing, 

acting with no expectations, 

leading and not trying to control:

this is the supreme virtue.

Create rich environments for your characters to be in. Don’t invent the next better thing, let your characters be who they are in the environment you’ve created. Play for yourself and stay out of the results. We’re in the playing for getting off business, not the results business. Don’t be a stage hog or bulldoze scenes. People like to play with people who support them. One of the tenants of improv is to make your partner look good. It’s not all about you.

 

11.

We join spokes together in a wheel, 

but it is the center hole

that makes the wagon move.

A team is made of members, but it is group mind that creates the magic.

 

We shape clay into a pot, 

but it is the emptiness inside

that holds whatever we want.

It’s not about the suggestion. It’s what bold choices we make based on the suggestion. If you get spiral notebook for a suggestion, be bolder than making a choice to be at a spiral notebook factory making spiral notebooks. Don’t limit yourself with obvious/vanilla choices in relation to the suggestion. 

 

We hammer wood for a house, 

but it is the inner space

that makes it livable.

Do the next strong choice and you’ll have a nice environment to be in.

 

We work with being, 

but non-being is what we use. 

Improv is magic. We show the audience one thing, but we know the tricks we are doing to make it work.

 

12.

Colors blind the eye.

Sounds deafen the ear.

Flavors numb the taste.

Thoughts weaken the mind.

Desires wither the heart.

Too many ideas cloud a scene and it has no purpose. (see 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and Improv in Mick Napier’s book, “Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out” Buy it here:http://www.amazon.com/Improvise-Scene-Inside-Mick-Napier/dp/032500630X) Desiring a particular outcome of a scene clouds it up.  Let it grow organically and the scene will do what it’s supposed to do. “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” – Lao Tzu

 

The Master observes the world 

but trusts his inner vision.

He allows things to come and go. 

His heart is open as the sky.

See the scene as if you’re looking at it from the outside and trust that you’ll do what’s best for it. Be open to changes for the scene. Be open to the possibilities of where the scene can go. 

 

13.

Success is as dangerous as failure.

Hope is as hollow as fear.

Have a good show and you may think you’ve got improv all figured out.  Have a bad show and you may think that you suck at improv.  Either viewpoint is dangerous. Susan Messing says that she is still continually trying to figure out more about how to do improv. Having this “Beginner’s Mind”, is important to continually challenge yourself and grow as an improviser. Otherwise, you’re resting on your laurels, phoning it in. (“Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki is a great unintentional improv book) Blaming a bad show on the audience is weak tit. You know what? You’re not doing the show for the audience, you’re doing it for you. You let yourself down if you do a bad show. Quit pandering for audience approval and just do good improv for your own enjoyment. You’re not a court jester, you’re not a birthday clown, you’re an artist.

 

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?

Whether you go up the ladder or down it, 

you position is shaky.

When you stand with your two feet on the ground, 

you will always keep your balance.

Getting a big head about a good show is dangerous because it can lead to you resting on your laurels. Just have confidence on stage. Sell it. Own it. Stay out of the results. Remember that it’s only improv. 

 

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?

Hope and fear are both phantoms

that arise from thinking of the self.

When we don’t see the self as self, 

what do we have to fear

Don’t hope to play well, play well. “There is no try, only do.” – Yoda  It’s not about you, it’s about the team. Don’t be embarrassed to play a certain character because you think you’ll fail.  It’s not you on stage, it’s a character. “Fuck your fear.” – Mick Napier  “When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao Tzu

 

See the world as your self. 

Have faith in the way things are.

Love the world as your self;

then you can care for all things.

Commit to your show. It’s your show. Own it. Contribute to your team to help your show. Take care of your team. One thing to help you do this is to not lean against the wall on the sides, not cross your arms on the sides, and always being in a position that you can jump on stage immediately. 

 

14. 

Look, and it can’t be seen.

Listen, and it can’t be heard.

Reach, and it can’t be grasped. 

Trying to learn the magic trick that will solve your improv problems is like a monkey trying to grab the moon in the water. 

“The monkey is reaching

 For the moon in the water. 

Until death overtakes him

He’ll never give up. 

If he’d let go the branch and

Disappear in the deep pool,

The whole world would shine

With dazzling pureness.”

– Hakuin, Zen Master

 

Above, it isn’t bright. 

Below, it isn’t dark.

Seamless, unnameable, 

it returns to the realm of nothing. 

Form that includes all forms, 

image without an image, 

subtle, beyond all conception.

Until you truly do improv just for yourself, and don’t need the approval of the audience or people you’re trying to impress, you will always struggle with being good enough and figuring out how to do it “right.” There is no one right answer to how to do improv. Nirvana had an improvised song on “Nevermind”, which was actually a result of Kurt’s frustration with the recording of “Lithium.”  Butch Vig recorded it and they put it on the album, hidden, after about 10 minutes of silence after the last song. Some of the lyrics are, “Silence. Here I am. Here I am. Silent. Bright and clear. It’s what I am. I have died.” Since Kurt decided to name that song “Endless, Nameless”, I like to think his message is that when we don’t desire, we discover the clarity of meaning behind things. When we let our desires die, we open ourselves up to the possibilities of what can happen when we turn ourselves over to a power greater than ourselves.  I like the song even more because it’s improvised. 

 

Approach it and there is no beginning;

follow it and there is no end.

You can’t know it, but you can be it,

at ease in your own life. 

Just realize where you come from:

this is the essence of wisdom.

Just do the next right thing that your character would do, the next right choice your character would make. Stick to the promise of the deal you made to the audience at the top of the scene. Keep reinvesting in that promise. 

 

15.

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.

Their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe it;

all we can describe is their appearance. 

 

They were careful

as someone crossing an iced-over stream.

Improv has evolved a great deal in a short period of time. We should be grateful to those who have pioneered the craft. 

 

Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.

Courteous as a guest. 

Fluid as melting ice.

Shapeable as a block of wood.

Receptive as a valley.

Clear as a glass of water.

Pay attention. Yes, and. Adapt. Don’t be afraid to be low status and be a loser on stage. Be open. Don’t think.

 

Do you have the patience to wait

till your mud settles and the water is clear?

Can you remain unmoving

till the right action arises by itself?

Silence can be useful. Let choices come organically without forcing them or inventing.

 

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.

Not seeking, not expecting, 

she is present, and can welcome all things.

Be with the scene, what it needs, and don’t worry about the audience’s approval. It’s hard to do because we’re all whores for the laughter, but the best reactions from the audience come when we play real and give the scene what it needs. There’s no difference between playing for a packed house or for two people. We don’t play for the audience, we play for ourselves. 

 

16. 

Empty your mind of all thoughts.

Let your heart be at peace.

Watch the turmoil of beings, 

but contemplate their return.

Don’t go on stage with preconceived plots. Just play and have fun. Tension is funny. Audiences like to see awkward situations they don’t get to see in real life. We have the pleasure to play those awkward situations. Calling back scenes (callbacks) is a great way to improvise. Instead of just doing montages, challenge your team to incorporate characters and previous scenes into subsequent scenes. It’s more rewarding for the players and the audience. It’s more of a theatrical experience, opposed to throwing a bunch of non-related shit against the wall and seeing what sticks.

 

Each separate being in the universe

returns to the common source. 

Returning to the source is serenity.

We all have a deep love for improv or we wouldn’t dedicate so much training and time to it. Reinvest yourself in that love when you feel crappy about improv. And remember, improv isn’t therapy, don’t use it as therapy. See a therapist for therapy. Using improv for therapy only makes people not want to play with you. Leave your baggage at the door when you play. 

 

If you don’t realize the source, 

you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

When you realize where you come from, 

you naturally become tolerant, 

disinterested, amused, 

kindhearted as a grandmother, 

dignified as a king.

Immersed in the wonder of the Tao, 

you can deal with whatever life brings you,

and when death comes, you are ready.

Reinvesting in that original love of improv allows you to:

*Be open to all players

*Be disinterested in seeking audience approval

*Have a sense of play that makes you a generous genius

Giving yourself to improv lets you play smarter and better. You aren’t afraid of dying on stage because if you fail, you’re going to FAIL BIG.

 

17.

When the Master governs, the people

are hardly aware that he exists.

Next best is a leader who is loved.

Next, one who is feared.

The worst is one who is despised.

A good coach/teacher guides without the student realizing it. If that coach/teacher isn’t a condescending asshole, even better. 

 

If you don’t trust the people, 

you make them untrustworthy.

Coaches/teachers who give students lists of rules don’t trust their students to make smart choices. That’s a fault in the coaching and teaching, not in the students/team.

 

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.

When his work is done,

the people say, “Amazing:

we did it, all by ourselves!”

Good coaches/teachers don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. When good coaches/teachers play with their students/team, the students/team feel as though they were a crucial part of the show, and it wasn’t just all about the coaches/teachers.

 

18.

When the great Tao is forgotten,

goodness and piety (holiness) appear.

When the body’s intelligence declines, 

cleverness and knowledge step forth.

When there is no peace in the family,

filial (parent/offspring) piety begins.

When the country falls into chaos,

patriotism is born.

When you forget about your original amazement of how improv is magic, you think you have it all figured out and become holier than thou about it. When you don’t play smart, you rest on your laurels and rely on jokes in scenes. When your team bickers with each other, statuses are assigned to those seen as lesser than. When a team has bad energy, sides are chosen and there is no trust. Trust is the basis of what makes a good team.

 

19.

Throw away holiness and wisdom, 

and people will be a hundred times happier.

Throw away morality and justice,

and people will do the right thing.

Throw away industry and profit,

and there own’t be any thieves.

Improvisers don’t like teachers who reek of, “I’m better than.” Don’t worry about following the rules of improv and you’ll naturally make smart choices. (However, you do have to know and respect the rules in order to break them)  If we all stop putting a value on individual improvisers over others, the whole improv community will bond together. Miles Stroth said the first year he was on stage, his characters would cry in every scene. Not the strongest choice to have every time you go out. But, he stuck with it and his teams stuck with him because he loved improv. He is one of the best improvisers out there. Every improviser is valuable if they respect the craft.

 

If these three aren’t enough, 

just stay at the center of the circle

and let all things take their course.

If all else fails, get off on the group mind created and that reward will supersede the improv world bullshit.

 

20.

Stop thinking, and end your problems.

What difference between yes and no?

What difference between success and failure?

Must you value what others value, 

avoid what others avoid?

How ridiculous!

If you stop worrying about rules on stage, you’ll play better. A denial can be turned into a gift, just as a “yes, and” can. If we treat each other like artists, geniuses and heroes, we can’t fail. Don’t worry about audience approval, play for yourself. 

 

Other people are excited,

as though they were at a parade.

I alone don’t care,

I alone am expressionless, 

like an infant before it can smile

If you look at shows as a way to express yourself instead of looking cool and/or funny, you’ll realize that your need of improv is deeper than getting laughs. 

 

Other people have what they need;

I alone possess nothing.

I alone drift about,

like someone without a home.

I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Be open to what improv can do. Beware what you think you can do for improv. Approach improv each time with an open, beginner’s mind. 

 

Other people are bright;

I alone am dark.

Other people are sharp;

I alone am dull.

Other people have a purpose;

I alone don’t know.

I drift like a wave on the ocean, 

I blow as aimless as the wind.

Let improv in. Get rid of pre-planned scenes. Let the scene go where it wants to. Don’t bulldoze scenes.

 

I am different from ordinary people.

I drink form the Great Mother’s breasts.

Stay tuned in to the joyride of improv and you’ll always be nurtured by improv.

 

21.

The Master keeps his mind

always at one with the Tao;

that is what gives him his radiance.

The true way to shine is to make your partners look good.

Making your partners look good is rule number one.

 

The Tao is ungraspable.

How can his mind be at one with it?

Because he doesn’t cling to ideas.

Group mind is what happens when you let go of your selfish monkey mind and work as a team.

Organic building is much better than inventing the next best thing.

 

The Tao is dark and unfathomable. 

How can it make him radiant?

Because he lets it.

Let the magic of improv overtake your monkey mind.

You can’t beat group mind. It is better than you alone.

 

Since before time and space were,

the Tao is.

It is beyond is and is not.

How do I know this is true?

I look inside myself and see.

Improv is created from nothing.

That makes it infinite.

Being infinite, the possibilities of what we do on stage are infinite.

 

22.

If you want to become whole, 

let yourself be partial.

If you want to become straight, 

let yourself be crooked.

If you want to become full, 

let yourself be empty.

If you want to be reborn,

let yourself die.

If you want to be given everything, 

give everything up.

Serve the scene, not your need to be in the spotlight.

Play characters that are challenging, be  a loser, an asshole, the guy who never wins.

Rewarding improv is being what the scene needs.

Don’t be afraid of failure on stage. Fail BIG! (Susan Messing-ism)

Let go of expectations. Let the scene guide you instead of you guiding the scene.

 

The Master, by residing in the Tao,

sets an example for all beings.

Because he doesn’t display himself, 

people can see his light.

Because he has nothing to prove,

people can trust his words.

Because he doesn’t know who he is,

people recognize themselves in him.

Because he has no goal in mind, 

everything he does succeeds.

The audience knows when you’re trying too hard. 

They like to see the trust in the show.

When we really commit to characters, we lose ourselves, and that’s when the audience really relates to the honest and real characters and what they’re experiencing.

When you work through the filter of your character, you can’t fail. When you let your monkey mind win, you and the audience lose.

 

When the ancient Masters said,

“If you want to be given everything, 

give everything up,”

they weren’t using empty phrases.

Only in being lived by the Tao

can you truly be youself.

Until you’re able to say, “Fuck it!”, and just play for youself, not for the audience, you won’t reach that “Aha!” moment.

 

23.

Express yourself completely, 

then keep quiet.

Be like the forces of nature:

when it blows, there is only wind;

when it rains, there is only rain;

when the clouds pass, that sun shines through.

Some improvisers talk too much on stage. Unless that’s a character choice, and you’re finding you ramble too much, try saying one sentence and shutting up. When we talk too much, we dig ourselves in holes.

Building slowly is better than rambling a bunch of stuff like throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.

 

If you open yourself to the Tao,

you are at one with the Tao

and you can embody it completely.

If you open youself to insight,

you are at one with insight

and you can use it completely.

If you open yourself to loss,

you are at one with loss

and you can accept it completely.

Give yourself to the possibilities and the magic happens. Harry Potter and the gang had to run full force into that train station wall in order to get to the other side.

Nothing is lost in scenes. Like Del said, we’re paranoid schizophrenics on stage, nothing is done without a hidden meaning behind it.

Accept that if a scene goes bad, it’s okay. Martin DeMatt said the best way to deal with a bad scene is to wipe your arms as if you’re wiping it off. It’s gone. It’s over. Learn and keep doing the show. A week before Martin passed away, he invited Second City students to hear him speak one last time. He kept saying throughout that he was finally going to tell everyone what the secret of improv was. At the end of his speaking he said, “The secret of improv, is that is doesn’t always work.”  It’s just improv.

 

Open yourself to the Tao,

then trust your natural responses;

and everything will fall into place.

Joe Bill always said to forget everything you learned while on stage and just improvise.

It’s in there, (knowledge in your head) it’ll come out. 

Worrying about remembering all you’ve learned while on stage puts you in your head.

Don’t be in your head, come out and play with the rest of us!

 

He who stand on tiptoe

doesn’t stand firm

He who rushes ahead

doesn’t go far.

He who tries to shine

dims his own light.

He who defines himself

can’t know who he really is.

He who has power over others

can’t empower himself.

He who clings to his work

will create nothing that endures.

Not having a strong character means you are doing the scene by relying on your wit.

Slow the fuck down. Let things build organically.

If you feel the need to be in every scene, you’re a bulldozer and it’s surprising you’re still on the team if you’ve been doing it for a while. Either your coach is you, or your coach doesn’t care.

Too much exposition limits what you’re able to do moving forward.

Playing slowly, not “blowing your wad”, letting things simmer, opens you to the possibilities of what can happen.

When Sarah Kirwin and I play in Saul, often times we let a scene go on for about 10 minutes or more before we label who we are in relation to each other. The payoff is always better because we’re able to be exactly who we’re supposed to be to each other by that point.

Being “right” on stage is your monkey mind being right. You win the asshole award, not the good improviser award.

Learn from good and bad shows and you’ll grow.

 

If you want to accord with the Tao,

just do your job, then let go.

“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water” – Do your work and be mindful while you do it. It’s just improv.

 

25.

There was something formless and perfect

before the universe was born.

It is serene. Empty.

Solitary. Unchanging.

Infinite. Eternally present.

It is the mother of the universe.

For lack of a better name, 

I call it the Tao.

 

It flows through all things, 

inside and outside, and returns

to the origin of all things.

Group mind is real magic.

It’s what the audience loves, it’s what gets the players off.

People can watch something interesting on stage all day, it doesn’t have to be funny.

The funny will come from the truth of what’s being played.

The truth keeps building on itself until it turns into magical group mind.

We’re like wizards that way.

 

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