Sticks Author: Rachel
Anyone who knows me even reasonably well knows that I am a control freak. I try and keep my control-freakiness in check and apply it to useful things such as planning parties, choosing restaurants, booking hotels etc…but it’s definitely something I battle with daily. No one likes to be bossed around and, left to my own devices, I’d probably have an opinion on what you should have for breakfast and where to buy your next pair of sneakers.
This “issue” I have has been useful in my professional life. I was a teacher, and got to control an entire classroom of kids all day long. I also run a theater camp and get to call most of the shots in that arena as well. Every summer, the theater camp I direct gives a variety show performance the third week of the program. We feature the campers performing all sorts of different talents including hip hop, monologues, stage combat, and Shakespeare. Every year it is the highlight of my camp experience… except for one ten-minute period when I have to leave the auditorium and hide in the bathroom. It’s the ten-minute comedy improvisation performance. I literally cannot handle being in the room while it is going on. I am convinced it will result in the sound of crickets reverberating through the room while the audience silently wonders to themselves, what were they thinking?
Fortunately, that’s never happened, the kids perform a hilarious scene and leave with newfound confidence in themselves and their ability. But this insecurity about improvisation is not their problem, it’s mine. And it has been a problem my entire performing career. The minute someone says the word, I look for the nearest script and hold on tight, convinced that the written word is sure to be funnier and more entertaining than what I could come up with. My inner control freak screams out for, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, “Order. Design. Composition. Tone. Form. Symmetry. Balance.” None of which have a lot to do with improvisation.
Still, I find myself every other week trekking out the door to go do the activity I fear the most. And I have been thinking about why. Why torture myself and others in this way? I think it comes down to wanting to in some way put some order into this art I find so disorderly. To try and figure out what works and what doesn’t…to find its rhythms, the game, the character, the beats. I’ve been improv’ing in one form or another for thirty years.
Maybe by year forty I won’t cringe at that thought.