It's not my theory originally by any means, but one idea I'm obsessed with that I come back to in improv, because it relates to what performers have to do in improv, is that your personality, your character, is not a singular, defined entity.
You move throughout life, adapting constantly, modifying behavior often. Whose to say what facet is pretend, what facet is manufactured, and what isn't? We ourselves are not able to say this, because we construct a self-preserving narrative that keeps our brain from frying out. We're not working with the full perspective. But people who know us and people who don't know us offer only half the insight too. They aren't working with the full deck either.
The basic idea is that our character mode is not "set." This person is not one thing to all people, but different things to different people, and so it is true for anyone.
We are constantly thrown into unfamiliar situations, and sometimes we know how we will react and other people might know how we will react, but it's not always a surefire prediction.
When people talk about Jesus, all religion and divinity aside, I always think it's funny that either we are surprised, or preachers act as if it's surprising that Jesus had emotions: we make a big deal that he wept, we emphasize verses of him lashing out, getting mad, reprimanding. That is because to most people, Jesus is one thing: love, peace, serenity. While he is those things, he is infinitely more.
And so are we.
We are not just one thing.
A comedian is not only funny. They are also not simply their tragedy, being worked out through public therapy.
A performer, a writer, an artist... They are not just their creativity, their passion, their drive. They can be unfocused, inattentive, unmotivated.
A mother is not just a mother. She was and is at various points in her life a girlfriend, a daughter, a grandmother, a wife, a lover, a worker, a woman.
In short, we are complex creatures. We long to be defined by more than just one simple thing.
It's where I really fall in love with the idea of the Fragmented You.
Like I said, it's only part of the idea, but this has to do with perception.
There are four squares to the personality:
- Along the X-axis is who you are in public (to others), and who you are in private.
- Along the Y-axis is what is known by someone, either subjectively or objectively, about you.
- Top left is the most exposed public persona: this is who you are to everyone, and what you choose to let everyone see about you. This is the aspect of your personality with which you try to make a first impression. This might be what people see as you at your best.
- Top right is your secret. It's your inner monologue. It could be your conscience, depending on how much you listen to your inner morality. It is your id, and your superego, in a constant battle for supremacy. Exposing this to people intimate to you might be the equivalent of people seeing you "at your worst."
- Bottom left is the blind spot. You know that moment when someone confesses to you in a private moment, something so true about yourself but you never acknowledged it before? That's where this aspect lies. You are putting something out there that you don't even realize. Maybe you see yourself as attentive, maybe someone sees you as overbearing. Maybe you see yourself as having high standards, maybe someone sees you as stubborn. Whatever it is, it is pretty important we discover these things and learn to acknowledge that they are part of us as well.
- Bottom right is the nebulous X-Factor. You have a certain "it" and you don't know what it is, and other people can't quite place it. They're either drawn by it or repelled by it. It's indescribable, but it's in every one of us. It is beyond a talent or a trait, it is that unknown that makes us truly unique.
In that bottom left square is where improvisation most ideally operates.
We don't know what this character is, we don't know what this character is going to do. The audience doesn't know it either.
But we treat it like a regular person. Our responsibility as a performer is to treat every character we momentarily inhabit as a fully realized, living, breathing person. They are not caricatures, they are humans with wants and needs. They are not singularly defined, just as we refuse to be singularly defined.
But we do have to remain truthful to something. We have to remain truthful to our other three aspects.
Our public persona is how we present, our secret dictates our motivations, wants and needs, our blind spot is in the hands of the other improvisers, but our X-Factor will always allow us to keep the element of surprise.
If you think of the four squares like we do a theory in tectonics, then we understand that all four squares are constantly moving and evolving. Four separate moving parts shifting and affecting each other, that's a lot of factors.
That's why it's also important to realize that things that once belonged to one square may move to another, but the make-up as a whole doesn't change. We are simply directing our energies elsewhere. The mid-Atlantic ridge lies dormant, while the Ring of Fire rages on, two oceans on the same Earth changing and evolving, but it is still the same 3rd planet from the sun.
As things become known, we can make them a part of us, they remain in the shuffle, rising and falling in prominence.
Over the long term, there is more consistency to be found. People tend toward patterns and just because they are predictable does not mean they are boring. Our situations also eventually tend to repeat. Once we find ourselves in a situation we've been in before, the way we act this time around is in direct correlation to the previous experience.
But this process takes time, it takes a lifetime of discoveries. Our partners, companions, friends, both on stage in improv and off stage in real life who can remain aware of who we are the present moment and want what's best for us are our most valuable assets. Thought and consideration are important, collaboration is important, and following your gut is important.
Because even if we know 25% of what we want and need, and our friends know 25% of what we want and need, that still leaves 50% up in the air. And that means we are mostly unknown, we have nothing to trust but the X-Factor, and maybe the only thing we can trust is fear itself.