Having done standup comedy since college, I struggled for a long time to get the hang of writing, being on stage, and putting myself out there. I was inconsistent. I was self-sabotaging. I was often paralyzed with fantasies of grandiosity. I was so frustrated that I hadn’t “made it” yet. After years of creative struggle, which were making me miserable, I finally decided to start getting help. I had to overcome my creative resistances and challenges, discover my voice, cultivate my skills, and claim my place on stage.
What did I do? I surrounded myself with support to write and perform a feature-length comedic solo show; a coach, a therapist, a comedy mentor, a director, and acting teacher, a best friend… all to help me level up. I set a goal to write a show and perform it and give it my all, for the first time in my life. And it worked. I performed my first solo show at the San Francisco Fringe Festival, and won “Best of the Fringe” and “Best Female Solo Show” in that premiere performance.
And a few years later, I began taking all I’d learned and sharing it with others in a transformational six-week storytelling and comedy workshop which culminates in a live final performance. “Solo Showdown” was born!
The final performances of these workshops are powerful rituals that shift reality for everyone involved. They are a declaration. “I’m here, dammit! This is my life!” A performative utterance!
So… Because such powerful things happen in these workshops, over the six years I’ve led this workshop, I’ve started to notice suspiciously familiar issues coming up round after round. Creative resistances. 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!)
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 these resistances, feel them, and let them move through us, while we put our focus on the task at hand — getting on stage. It’s the opposite of spiritual bypassing. (Which I believe 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 WRITING (of any kind), 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 AND 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: “FEAR YOU GOT NOTHIN’.”
YOU: “What if I get on stage, or sit down to write, and it turns out I actually have nothing to say? What if I’m a really boring person?”
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 sat with yourself and your blank page? Just for a little while, to see what happens? Or if you let yourself get on stage and simply be silent for several minutes, and not have to “perform” for us? To allow yourself to just “be” with us in the audience?
What if what arises out of the depths is 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.”
Read on to evade the next trap…