Improvisation and The Inner Critic | Holly Stoppit

Hello improvisers,

Pleased to meet you, I’m Holly Stoppit, a Bristol-based clown, fool and impro teacher, facilitator and dramatherapist and I’m coming to BIT this autumn to run my 8-week Inner Critic Inquiry course. I just popped by to have a chat about Inner Critics and how they can affect us in improvisation. 

I’ve written your part in italics so it reads more like a chat and less like me bellowing alone in cyberspace. 

Thanks Holly. 

You’re welcome.

Hey Holly, how do I know if I have an Inner Critic?

Here’s a short test to help you find out: 

1.) Are you a human? 


2.) Are you a psychopath?


Then you’ll more than likely have an Inner Critic!

Aha, but what exactly IS an Inner Critic?

The Inner Critic is the part of the psyche that protects us from experiencing or creating harm. It’s whole existence is about trying to stop us from taking life-threatening risks. 

Put simply, your Inner Critic is trying to keep you alive.

Where does it come from?

It probably developed sometime in childhood, at a time when you were a bit rubbish at life, taking loads of risks and making loads of mistakes, otherwise known as BEING A CHILD or LEARNING THROUGH EXPERIENCE. 

When a child experiences a lot of criticism during this formative period (ie “Don’t do that”….”You stupid idiot”….”How many times must I tell you?”…”You never learn”… “Why didn’t you look first?”….”You could do better than this”….”You should be ashamed of yourself.”….etc), the child begins to get the message that they are somehow flawed or inadequate. Well they must be, or why would (usually bigger) people say these things?

To help keep ourselves on the straight and narrow, we develop a handy internalised version of our outer critics. This voice can be enormously helpful in many ways; our Inner Critics can tell us when we’ve had enough biscuits, give us great fashion advice or sabotage our creative efforts so that no-one will ever find out we’re a massive talentless loser.

Hey, what was that last bit you said?

What? Our Inner Critics can sabotage our creative efforts so that no-one will ever find out we’re a massive talentless loser?

Yeah, that bit. I can relate to that.

Welcome to the club! If my Inner Critic had its way, I’d be sat on a sofa, under a blanket, watching telly for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of blankie time, but life is for living and living involves taking risks, making mistakes, learning and growing. My Inner Critic hates all that. It wants everything to be safe and mostly importantly, it wants everything to stay the same.

I get that! I totally recognise that voice in myself! Especially when I’m improvising.

Ah yes, Critics don’t like improvisation. It’s risky, imperfect, exposing – everyone might find out you’re stupid, or crazy, or you have a filthy mind, or worst of all, you’re boring. Then you’ll get ousted from the community and you’ll have to survive in the desert, alone. You’ll probably die there.

Oh lordy! So that’s what’s happening every time I step onto stage! No wonder I sometimes freeze up, or find myself over-compensating and end up totally dominating scenes, or get the fear and dread so bad, I don’t even make it to class.

Yep. I’ve been teaching adults for the last 13 years (and kids before that) – and I can safely say – that’s what a lot of us experience. These Critics are powerful beasts and if left unchecked, they’ll take over our lives, restricting our choices and draining out the colour.

That sounds like my life! What can I do?

Well, you can read self-help books (I recommend The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron, There is Nothing Wrong With You by Cheri Huber and Healing The Shame That Binds You by John Bradshaw), you can see a therapist or you can come to my 8-week Inner Critic Inquiry course at The Bristol Improv Theatre this autumn. 

What will happen if I come to your course?

Together with a small group of brave adventurers, you’ll be led through a process of creative exploration and reflection to get to know your critic and find out what it’s trying to protect you from. You’ll pick up loads of tools and strategies to use in building up your resilience and dealing with any future visitations from your Inner Critic. You’ll laugh a lot and drink a lot of tea.

Will my Inner Critic magically disappear?

Wouldn’t that be lovely? No. In my experience, the Inner Critic never goes away, but through practice and persistence, we can cultivate a different way of listening and relating to the voice, so that we are in control of our choices.

Where can I read more about this course?

To see the course description, look here

To read more about my journey with my Inner Critic, look here

To get a taste of an Inner Critic Inquiry session, look here

When is it and how do I book?

  • I’ll be running two separate courses, one in the daytimes and one in the evenings.
  • Dates: 8 consecutive Thursdays, starting Thursday 24 October (with a half term break on 21st Nov)
  • Daytime session: 2.30-5pm
  • Evening session: 7-9.30pm
  • Venue: Bristol Improv Theatre, Clifton
  • Cost: £280 / £240 / £200 (Standard / low income / no income)
  • Eligibility for applications: This course is open to anyone who feels called to participate. Usually Holly requests participants to have completed her Introduction To Clowning Weekend before taking any of her other training, but we are lifting that restriction to allow people from The Bristol Improv Theatre Community and beyond to access to this course.
  • Deadline: 20th September
  • Application form

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