Having done standup comedy since college, I struggled for a long time to get the hang of getting on stage in a good way, consistently. One day I decided to start getting help to finally learn how to overcome my resistances and challenges, discover my voice, and claim my talent.
What did I do with all my frustration about not Making It? I surrounded myself with support to write and perform a feature-length comedic solo show; a coach, a therapist, a mentor, a director, and acting teacher, a best friend… all to help me level up. And it worked.
And then I began taking all I’d learned and sharing it with others in a transformational six-week group storytelling and comedy workshop which culminates in a live final performance. Solo Showdown was born!
These performances are truly a ritual and a declaration for participants. A performative utterance!
So… Over the six years I’ve led this workshop, I’ve started to notice suspiciously familiar issues coming up round after round. While we are all unique snowflakes, there are a collective set of fears and resistances I believe are a result of cultural (and biological) programming. And these fears are in the way of our self-expression, collectively. (Thanks, capitalism!)
Turns out that the more powerfully we endeavor to tell our personal stories, the more we are confronted with these fears and resistances, and the more opportunity we have to work through them.
Working through them doesn’t mean conquering them forever, but finding the courage to be with them, feel them, and let them move through us while we focus on the task at hand — getting on stage. It’s the opposite of spiritual bypassing. (Which is impossible to do anyway, since anything that needs to come up and be healed will eventually just come the f* up.)
And when we endeavor to fight the “war of art”, when we take this action, I believe we begin to work through these things collectively, such that we weaken the collective programming that reinforces these beliefs and make more energetic space for self-expression.
In other words, when we overcome our own creative resistance, and people see us tell our stories on stage – and bring humor to them – they get inspired too, and we help make it easier for them to take a leap. Of any kind.
Any of these resistances might pop up at any time. Fears are not linear, and neither is overcoming them. But these resistances are incredibly predictable, and I hate to say it, not unique to you, you special person. You will still feel unique in having them (also predictable!), but you’re not alone (hurray!), and hopefully what I write here will help you work with and move through them.
Ultimately, having a team of supporters, or joining a group where you are all performing together will give you the most support. Because you’re standing shoulder to shoulder, on a journey together, with a guide who (hopefully) really knows just how to track you and invite you into the creative experience. (Hopefully they’ve debentures on stage too.)
These principles apply to storytelling, but also to solo performance, TEDx talks, Moth story slams, keynote speaking, standup comedy, and any kind of forum where you want to be a powerful, funny, authentic speaker, on stage OR IN LIFE.. And a big part of what I do when I’m coaching people 1-1 or directing a solo show, is help people transcend these traps.
Here are the most common traps involved with getting on stage that I notice people experiencing at each stage of Solo Showdown, and what to do about them:
TRAP 1: THE SELF-BLAME GAME
YOU: “What if I have nothing to say? What if it turns out I’m a really boring person? If I do this, I’ll only have myself to blame.”
ME: “It makes sense that fear would come up. This is perhaps the first time you’ve gotten up in front of people and just really been given the floor, without someone else asking you to do or say something. Self-expression happens when we give time and space — and more space and time — to let ourselves unfold.
Would it be ok if you let yourself be silent for several minutes, and not have to “perform” for us? To allow yourself to just “be” with us? What if that were even more interesting than blabbing about something you don’t feel inspired by?” When I give people a prompt, something always comes. And I like to let people take their time and really feel their story bubble up from someplace deep, rather than chop chop let’s get on with it.
TRAP 2: TOO MUCH GETTING UN-GOTTEN
YOU: “I can’t seem to say what I really want to say, in the way I really want to say it. Help!”
ME: “Ugh, that must feel really uncomfortable! Some part of you knows just how it should feel, and it’s like an itch you can’t quite scratch or maybe it’s like when you go to the dentist for a filling and your teeth don’t quite bite down in the same way, and it’s like YOUR MOUTH, and you don’t quite feel at home in your own mouth. Argh!
Telling your story is perhaps a bigger journey than you may have realized, and things are going to get uncomfortable. Let’s hang out with that discomfort together. We’re with you, and we’re rooting for you all the way. It could take a while for it to feel “just right”. Let it be imperfect, because that’s the only way you can keep exploring your story and keep getting closer to fine.”
TRAP 3: LIFE IS SUDDENLY AMAZING
YOU: “I suddenly realize I don’t really have time for this creative stuff. I’ve suddenly got SO much on my plate, and it’s really… self-indulgent. For my kids/career/partner/other creative project/suddenly amazing new job offer, I just don’t have time!”
ME: “I do notice when people commit to taking this risk to get on stage, a couple of things happen. Sometimes, their whole lives expand proportionally. New offers come in, new gigs, new partners… And I think that’s a major benefit of stepping up in one area of your life; the other areas grow, too. (Or the rest of your life starts to feel cramped and you have to go through a letting-go-of-the-old-stuff process.)
The other thing I notice is that resistance can act like a smokescreen and everything else can suddenly seem — or even be — SO important. This is exactly the time to keep this window of creativity open. Something is opening up, and this group experience is where you examine what that is. DON’T quit!”
(Another version of this is that life is suddenly really rough and you need to quit to focus on everything that’s going wrong. This is a great opportunity to bring what’s happening in your life to the stage and find resolution with it in your script. Don’t quit!)
Stay tuned for Parts 2, 3, and 4, coming soon…