Improv Yourself, A Retrospective
Remember way back in March when I auditioned for an improv class? And then I got in and wrote about my first class ever? It feels like so much longer than eight months ago, but here I am, two days after my last class and the day of my final student performance. Whoa. For those of you who wish to reminisce with me, I’ve pasted the bulk of that first class post in purple below as a nice reminder to take a leap, do something that scares you, and let go of your inhibitions. For those of you who want to skip to my thoughts now, jump ahead past the purple.
I had my first improv class last week. It was awesome. The first rule of improv is to say yes to anything, which is usually a pretty good philosophy in life*. . . But more important than saying yes is saying “yes, and…” which means building on the scene. If you’re a squirrel and I’m a squirrel that’s interesting, but if you’re a squirrel, I’m a squirrel, AND we’re pirating DVDs, then we’ve got a scene.***
As frightening as it can be (even for me) to stand on stage under the lights, everyone else is doing it, too, which makes it feel safer. And, you really get to know who you’re working with pretty quickly. It was hard to watch some people struggle, but just like in my classroom when a question hangs in the air longer than I’d like, I’ve learned that sometimes you need the silence. People need a moment to collect their thoughts. Usually, it’s only a beat or two.
This week we worked on building/establishing relationships in a scene. I was disarming a bomb, plugging holes in a sinking ship, typing, and delivering Pepsi (not at the same time). I played a coworker, a second cousin, an employee, and a snarky teenager (again, not all at once). I think what I like most about improv is the chance to play and pretend—I’m not actually a smoker or an old man in real life, but on stage I can be. And I can go from that to fighting fires or climbing Mt. Everest or stealing a car in a matter of seconds. As our instructor told us, everything we need is on stage. Just grab it.
One of the best parts of joining this improv class is the people. At least half of the people in my class were not from the Twin Cities, and 90% of them are women.**** I even made a couple of new friends that I can geek out with about declarations and three sentence scenes.***** And, at the end of it all, we’ll be performing in front of a live studio audience. Okay, now I just got a little nervous. But it will be fun. And even if I bomb, at least I’m doing it, right? Yes, and…
Eight months ago, after my audition, I wrote that I was just glad I showed up. Eight months later, I’m still glad I showed up to that audition and every week afterward. I’ve forged some pretty close friendships with people, relationships that I believe (and hope) will continue to further performances and to adventures far beyond the stage. I had two teachers who were very different but each wonderful in his own way, and through the BNW in general I learned (okay, am still learning) how to deal with people of whom I’m not as fond (but no one in my class, they’re all dears). I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone so much that I’m not even sure where that was anymore. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it. My best performance was the Stage Match performance before this final one, and judging from our last class on Tuesday, I have no doubt that tonight’s show will be even better. I’ve learned what I’m good at (witty asides/straight man roles) and what needs work (volume, stage actions, getting to the “thing” faster), and I’ve learned how much I really enjoy and need a creative outlet, particularly a performance-based one. Thank you so much for coming to my shows, sending notes and thoughts of encouragement, and for taking this journey with me. I hope this commencement is (as the word means) truly a beginning.
*Except drugs. I’ve found Nancy Reagan was pretty spot-on with that one.
***I should use that in my
next improv class… performance
****The teacher said this is reflective of “the industry” right now, which is funny because I’ve heard that about a lot of things lately: post-secondary education, higher education, improv, etc. Go Women! Or something.
*****If you want to know what these are, you’ll have to sign up for a class.