Why you shouldn’t tape concerts…or graduation shows

By Randall | Improv in Life
11 Feb 2012

Part of what I like about improv is how transitory it is. A scene exists, and then it is extinguished, like a candle. That scene will never exist again. Your only opportunity to experience it is in that moment, and you have to focus on getting the most out of that moment.

Think about a memorable experience you had in your life. For me, I like to reflect back on the time I spent in France when I was 19. It was maybe the best 5 weeks of my life, and I would love to be able to experience that time again. There were so many new experiences, so many great times! But if I return to France, everything will be different: me, the people I’m with, the people I meet and interact with. The experience is over, and can never be lived again. All I have is my memories and a few short journal entries.


Anything you do during that takes your focus off the time you are in right now is distracting you from the one and only chance you ever get to experience that moment. It bothers me when people pull out their phones to record their favorite song at a concert, and not because of intellectual property rights. The recording will never be as good as what you are missing right now. You cannot capture the energy, or the anticipation, or the electricity of the crowd. All you get is a shallow reproduction, like a copy that came out of a xerox machine low on toner.


If you tape your grade show, instead of remembering the awe inspiring, transcendant experience that was your first improv performance, you will replay scenes from a grainy video that you will probably watch too many times until it loses all emotional impact on you. The recording becomes your memory of the experience, not your experience. You focus on the mistakes, not the triumph. Don’t do that. Enjoy the moment while it lasts, release it when it is over, and relish the memory.

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  1. John F says:

    Interesting. I know my level-5 grad show was taped but I never thought about it until a friend from Zanzibar asked if I had a video of the show she could watch. Then I thought, “man, I’ve got to watch that show!” I haven’t gotten the video yet, but when I do, I’m not sure I want to watch it, now. Thanks a lot!

    But as a dancer, I already know one of the most painful things is to watch video of yourself. For just the reasons you mention: all you do is pickup on everything you do wrong. But sometimes, those things are good to know. “Man, I need to take smaller steps on my swingouts”, “Oh, that thing I do with my arm that I think looks cool…doesn’t.”, “Those pants really do make my butt look big”. For improv, it might be, “Wow, I make a big stupid face every time I think my offer was weak” or “Oh yeah, I threw out that clever joke I thought would be funny and it totally fell flat.”

    I guess it comes down to which is more important: not sullying the moment or improving. My favorite scenes are always in class, anyway. Those are the ones I think back on and laugh at. So I think recording those would definitely be a loss. But I’m not sure about the rare (for most of us) times we actually get to get in front of an audience, whether those should be taped or not.

    I’m still on the fence about whether to watch this video, now. I might just compress it blind and post it for my friend. Or I might get some whiskey, dim the lights, and turn the country music down low as I watch it and cry.

  2. Randall says:

    You bring up a good counterpoint John. Of course, there is a lot to be gained by seeing yourself perform and finding things you should work on. Sometimes, having a notes session with your fellow improvisers after a show can be a constructive way to get feedback, sometimes not. You may judge yourself objectively while watching a video of a performance, or you might be a little too hard on yourself.
    I would recommend performing for a while and getting into a frame of mind where you feel confident enough in your skills that you can face the cold, hard truth of the camera lens without fear. I’m not sure I’m there yet…

  3. I love this because I completely agree. I can’t speak to the improv part, but as any memories. (Although at concerts I’ll sometimes record part of my 2nd or 3rd favorite song, because it really does help jog my memory back to what being there felt like.)

    I take FAR less photos and videos now than I have in the past, but I don’t regret that. Sure, the memories may fade away much faster than having a visual reminder, but I also enjoy that experience when it is happening much more. I feel like it’s improved my quality of life!

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