From Sondheim To Harold: Becoming An Improviser

Sticks Author: Jen


I’m originally of the species theatrum-musica by nature and experience.  The beings that crafted my world are the orderly, structured and (mostly) benevolent gods Sondheim and Hammerstein.  This is a world populated by an aristocracy of beautiful and graceful creatures like Bernadette, Mandy and Chita.  We are a people who like a nice fat libretto, some sort of sexy period costume and jazz hands.  Even those of us who dwell in our society’s underbelly (Community Theater) know that improvising is something you only do when some jackass has missed an entrance, or the ensemble needs an icebreaker game!

And then one day I woke up in the Bizarro World of Long form Improv!  There were no costumes, no perfectly executed kick lines, no scripts.  The language of beats, games and heightening was foreign and scary.  There was a terrifying lack of “stuff” to rely on. Oh, there was structure to learn, but then every time I thought I got the structure, I’d watch a video of some group who impossibly and perfectly broke away from it, creating a brilliant performance, not unlike like some crazy Picasso painting.  I was pretty sure I didn’t belong in this theatrical chaos.

But somewhere between a second glass of wine and our third try at completing a full Harold, I had a breakthrough.  I found myself standing on a folding chair in the 3rd beat pretending to spray breast milk like a lawn sprinkler, and it dawned on me that maybe I had something to contribute.  I could physically heighten a scene.  Maybe I wasn’t great at spotting or purposefully creating the “game” yet, but I could definitely establish some physicality here.

Now, I am even starting to see how this physicality can be built upon as our stories and characters unfold.  Maybe that’s something I can bring to our group.  There is so much to learn and explore here. I am glad we are dialing it back a bit and working on the basics of relationships and scene composition.  I am fortunate to be surrounded by talented, intelligent and big-hearted team members, who are also hilarious as hell!   As we continue to rehearse and analyze, their skills emerge and shine.  They are all such generous performers that I feel like I’m bound to find my personal funny soon.  Citizenship here is now definitely a long term goal of mine, but I don’t mind hiding amongst the crowd and picking fruit for a while!


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