“Ta-dah!” How Clowns Handle Mistakes

6 Mar

The following excerpt comes from the amazing book Improv Wisdom (2005) by Patricia Ryan Madson. 

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Matt Smith, a wonderful Seattle improv teacher and solo performer, taught me a liberating game that can be used as a response to a personal screwup. He calls it “The Circus Bow.” Matt claims this is how circus clowns deal with a slip in their routines. Instead of shrinking and berating himself silently with, “Oh, no, I really blew it!” the clown turns to the crowd on one side and takes a magnificent bow with his hands extended and his arms high in the air, proclaiming “Ta-dah!” as if he had just pulled off a master stunt. He then turns to face the other side of the audience and repeats the bow, “Ta-dah!” Doing it in both directions allows him a 360-degree view of where he is. 

The virtue of this is that it pulls his attention out into the world again, looking around and standing tall. This engaged and forward-looking vantage point is an excellent place to be after a blooper. It is more common to focus inward when a blunder occurs. “How could I have done that?” The body shrinks and withdraws. Instead, a mistake should wake us up. Become more alert, more alive. Ta-dah! New territory. Now, what can I make of this? What comes next? 

…Jim Thompson, author of Positive Coaching…encourages his athletes to play aggressively, to really go for it, and when they do make a blunder in practice to silently say “Ta-dah!” In no time all of his players were not only mumbling it under their breath, but running full tilt down the court shouting “Ta-dah!” with arms outstretched and big smiles on their faces. 

…The next time you notice that you have made a mistake, done something that feels silly or dumb, do the circus bow. Raise your arms in the air, smile, turn left and right. Say, “Ta-dah!” brightly. Then look around and see what needs to be done next and do it. (excerpted from pages 106-109). 

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