How Improv Made Me A Better Stage Manager

I am not a performer. I am a stage manager, but I used to study acting with Dan and Ellen Morbyrne (also RLT company members) at The Drama Studio when I was in high school, and I joined The Drama Studio’s comedy improv troupe, The Natural Disasters.

  We had a photoshoot. We're fancy.

We had a photoshoot. We're fancy.

Stage managing is all about planning things in advance.  In improv there is no time to plan, you just have to act.  A popular misconception is that improv is about being the funniest. It’s not. Improv is about being the best team player, no matter what. An improviser’s job is to make their scene partner look good.  When your scene partner needs help, you just have to jump on stage and trust that you will know what to do by the time you get there.   You have to be listening and present with the whole team the whole time. If you get too caught up in your own mind and forget to pay attention, you can’t contribute to what’s happening, because you missed it. You must always say “yes, and”, which means you take what your scene partner has set up and build on it.  And you have to be willing to make a complete fool out of yourself if the scene requires it.  Imagine how terrifying this would be for a stage manager who loves taking notes, scheduling, and sending emails.  It was terrifying.  But here’s the amazing part:  you learn to fake it until you make it, because you’re not alone. I remember the exhilarating feeling of looking at the rest of my troupe, thinking “okay, here goes nothing” and running onstage with no idea what I would do when I got there.  I remember the pure adrenaline, feeling like I was jumping off a cliff, but doing it while holding hands with my best friends.  And guess what?  Most of the time, once I got onstage, I did know what to do.  And if I didn’t, my teammates did.  I learned to believe in myself, and to trust my team. I realized that when I work together with a group and a “yes, and” attitude, there’s nothing I can’t handle. We can catch ourselves, even when we’re falling off a cliff.

  Every good improv scene includes a mop.

Every good improv scene includes a mop.

Which is good, because sometimes when you’re stage managing, the lights will go out in the middle of a scene.  Or an actor will be too sick to perform.   Or the new performance space isn’t what you expected (this would never happen at RLT, of course).  And instead of shutting down and canceling the show, I know I can say “yes, and”, look around at my team, grab hands, and jump off the cliff together.

Lucy Gouvin
RLT Founding Member and Company Administrator