Lie To Me: Pathology Of Improv

Sticks Author: Steve

In 1993 I didn’t understand how jobs worked, but I was certain that companies across America were waiting, bald heads plugged into Cerebro, searching for my special DNA tone among the masses. ¬†They needed writers, I was assuming. ¬†Who better than me – ¬†a person published several times in the UConn student newspaper? ¬†Hadn’t they seen my tendency for overwroughtity and my¬†aptitude¬†for word makeruppery? ¬†I¬†prolifically wrote about the swim team AND the cross country team. ¬†I had once written a fluff piece on the football team – FOOTBALL – as they took on New Hampshire in which I publicly admired their license plate motto. ¬†Live Free Or Die. ¬†Live. ¬†Free. ¬†Or. ¬†Die!

Oddly, I was not plucked proactively from the bulging hordes of UConn grads as I made my way to live with my girlfriend (now wife) in Buffalo. ¬†I assumed that when I arrived in Cheektowaga, word would have preceded me and perhaps there wouldn’t be a parade per se, but there would surely be a ringing phone in our apartment with employers treating me like a blue chip basketball prospect. ¬†Come work for us son. ¬†We’ve got great facilities and plenty of coeds. ¬†I was young once too son! ¬†I see a little bit of me in you. ¬†The writing comes easy, right son? ¬†Yeah. ¬†Well, now’s your chance to show it off on the largest stage in town.

Talent I guess isn’t a rare thing and it’s graded on a curve. ¬†Sure I can string some words together, but writing is about writing. ¬†Like all the time writing, never stopping, writing, typing, erasing, editing, writing, writing, writing. ¬†Writers are everywhere and most of them are better than I was. ¬†Am. ¬†Are. ¬†Whatever, screw grammar anyway. ¬†Anyways.

Writers like me it turns out are the trees that fall in the forests with nobody else around. ¬†You write, you get it published or you simply aren’t heard. ¬†So instead of writing for a magazine or a tv show or a greeting card company, I got temp jobs stocking paint in the middle of the night or typing (that’s a lot like writing!) for a lawyer’s office. ¬†I taught acting. ¬†I tried to audition for an improv show. ¬†I slept. ¬†I managed a video store. ¬†I got a job making pancake batter during which I ate a lot of pancakes. ¬†I got a job making pizzas during which I ate a lot of pizza.

And finally, I lied.

In the end, it wasn’t my writing ability or my quasi understanding of when to use semicolons¬†that got me what I needed; it was my ability to make stuff up.

While temping at a mortgage company, I learned of a real opening in the customer service department.  I learned that the hiring manager liked lacrosse.  It took a book, some discussion with actual athletic people, and two weeks to prepare, but by the time I interviewed I had an entire character built around a love of lacrosse and I sold it.  Got the job.

I owe almost everything I have now to that lie.

I’m still not the brightest bulb because putting this down on the internet is probably a great way for people like my past/current employers to learn that I never played right wing or what the hell ever on a club lacrosse team at UConn, but I’m pretty sure I could talk my way out of it if confronted.

I’m not saying that lying is improv, but pretending you are somebody else is a pretty big part of it. ¬†Who doesn’t like trying on the ill-fitting clothes of some character? ¬†I can always be Steve the insurance marketing guy. ¬†That’s every damn day! ¬†Why not be Luke the buff lacrosse psycho? ¬†Or James the shy beekeeper? ¬†Or Jacob the wayward rumspringa?

I’ve matured now and I totally understand that with great power comes great responsibility. ¬†I don’t think I’d ever use improv powers to lie ¬†to secure a job.

But Charles the awkwardly suave electrical engineer?  That dude would lie in a heartbeat.

 

 

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Back In The Saddle On A Horse With No Name Because There Weren’t Any Actual Horses

Sticks Author: Steve

Well I guess we were on a break. ¬†It’s not like we planned it and it’s not like it was anybody’s fault except that it probably was. ¬†It was probably Allison’s fault. ¬†That’s what I’m declaring now anyway. ¬†It was Allison’s fault that we just couldn’t get along any longer. ¬†You know it’s just that it’s hard to maintain a relationship these days with 12 people. ¬†Right? ¬†That’s a lot of people with a lot of issues. ¬†Mostly Allison with her issues really. ¬†SO MANY ISSUES with that girl. ¬†God!

Okay. ¬†It wasn’t really all Allison now that I have taken a moment to just calm down a little bit. ¬†I mean it was probably mostly her, but if I can turn the blame attention elsewhere and in a place that is other than me, I guess I can say it was also very much Jesse’s fault what with his good looks and his way with the women in the group. ¬†Especially Allison. ¬†Man! ¬†Can’t you just control yourself Allison? ¬†Really? ¬†Jesse? ¬†He’s married to Marilyn for goodness sake. ¬†Did you ever stop and think about that Allison? ¬†No. ¬†You didn’t. ¬†You didn’t stop and think about that.

Anyway.

We haven’t rehearsed for a good long while. ¬†There was a hurricane named Irene that probably just should have been named Allison. ¬†There was also just summer things like vacations and complicated schedules and illnesses and football season starting and odd temperature fluctuations and community theater performances and all of that stuff that went down with some celebrity that made headlines during this time period and meals to cook and things to eat and lists of excuses to be made. ¬†There was really a lot of stuff that caused us to not rehearse for a while. ¬†But it was just a short while comparatively speaking when you stop and think about the age of the Earth (6,000 years) and the universe (6,000 years and 7 days).

In that time (this time that we haven’t rehearsed, not the time of the Earth or universe) we never really stopped caring about improv. ¬†At least I didn’t. ¬†I don’t really know about the rest of these a holes, but I cared a lot.

Tonight we got back on the horse.  And we did it in style!  We played Zip Zap Zop because you have to do that to be an improv group that is taken seriously.

We also did two Harolds.  They were good.

But the real highlight was a little wrinkle called Mirth In A Box. ¬†Mirth In A Box is a Connecticut company and we are also mirthy in Connecticut so it’s like we are soulmates. ¬†Mirth In A Box provides gift boxes/baskets etc. filled with funny items like Whoppie Cushions, Joy Buzzers and all genres of fake human excresions. ¬†It’s a pretty damn awesome idea and they sent us a box of stuff to play with. ¬†We filmed some of our adventures in our highly-professional studio with our high-quality camera and our many compound adjectives.

Two games. ¬†The first was great fun and involved two people in a suggested scene. ¬†As they performed, we would holler “Mirth In A Box!” and they would have to reach into the box and incorporate whatever silly object they pulled out into the scene. ¬†The second game made use of a sound machine they sent. ¬†Throughout the scene, random sounds would play and the performers would have to react.

In any event here’s some stuff we did.

The first video is our “Mirth In A Box” game with Chris M introducing, Rachel playing the weary NASA worker, and Jesse playing Lou the bartender.

The second video is the “Mirth In A Box” sound game with Chris M introducing, Allison playing the smothered girlfriend and Steve playing the boyfriend.

Many dozens of thanks to the good folks at Mirth In A Box for the props.  Especially the slingshot monkey.  That thing is just outstanding.

More to come from The Sticks. ¬†We’ll be performing the Harold some time in October in our home town of East Hampton, CT. ¬†It will be like Woodstock and Woodstock 2 combined with opening night of Twilight Breaking Dawn.

Open Your Mind To Accept And Build

Sticks Author: Jesse

Going to the Second City performance was a great chance to watch some masters at this craft work. There was one skit that particularly tickled me. It starts off innocently enough with two actors mentioning to each other how whenever you go home, people treat you differently. It‚Äôs an offhand comment said in an ‚Äúof course we all deal with this‚ÄĚ kind of way. When the other actors proceed to interact with the pair, they act as if the first character as is an old black woman (he‚Äôs a younger white man).¬† The absurdity is accepted and built upon, with each new character adding to the reality that when at home, this man is Miss Shirley, the old black woman.

Thinking about this performance, I realized how much I still have to learn about the premise of accept and build. I always thought I accepted and built, but the skit made me realize how much I was missing. I think, had I been confronted with the reality in the Miss Shirley scene, I would have latched onto the idea that ‚Äúpeople treat me differently at home‚ÄĚ.¬† Had I gone up 2nd, I would have followed up the reality that he‚Äôs an old black woman with a different reality – perhaps he is an old Asian man.¬† Before analyzing this, I would have argued that I was accepting the initial reality that people treat him differently at home.¬† If this had happened, an amazing scene would have been missed.

Last rehearsal Chris B and Chris M did a fun scene with secret agents who eventually go rogue in an attempt to take over the world. They carry with them a ridiculous device that they claim gives them more power than anything in the world. The device is silly and we all had a lot of fun with its naughtiness, but I look back and realize that I missed a chance to accept and build. I accepted the reality that the device was powerful, but I did so silently.  The reality which was presented was that this was the most powerful device in the world. I could have built on that. Instead I worked around it, never denying it, but never embracing that fact and making it bigger. I want to spend the next couple of rehearsals focusing on that simple and most basic fact.

Accept and build, is always accept first and silence is not  mute acceptance.

Second City Touring Company In New Haven

Sticks Author: Steve

We don’t need an excuse to ¬†remove the child seats from our minivans, load up with beer, cheese and smoked meat products, lock our children up with babysitters and hit the road. ¬†We don’t need an excuse for that. ¬†We’re adults and if we want to pack into the minivan and head to New Haven, we can do that damnit. ¬†We can.

Eight Sticks in Chris M and Jen’s minivan. ¬†A jumpseat added (a cooler) for comfort of the eighth. ¬†And off we went.

From where we all live in Connecticut (East Hampton) it’s about 45 minutes into the Elm city. ¬†Since our lives mostly revolve (lovingly, joyously) around our small children, we don’t actually get out much. ¬†So when Kendra noted that the Second City touring company was playing the Long Wharf, we jumped! ¬†And by jumped I mean that we loaded up a minivan with beer and pepperoni. ¬†Beep beep! Squeal of tires. ¬†Dust cloud. ¬†Good luck to you babysitters! ¬†We’re outta here.

A quick ride, some cheese cutting in the car (you heard me), some monologues for the fun of it and we arrived.

Listen, it’s our personal brand as an improviser troupe that we are family types. ¬†Piling in and out of the minivan obviously fits this brand and you may think I’m making it up. ¬†But I’m not. ¬†It was honestly the best and most fun way for us to get there. ¬†Right out of the suburbs and into…

Long Wharf. ¬†A fun little theater in New Haven stuck between salami shops and Ikea. ¬†The whole thing actually looks like where they would stage a mildly-urban superhero fight. ¬†Quick Batman! ¬†Down by the loading docks and dumpsters! ¬†There’s a group of criminals trying to get into a theater to steal pearl necklaces right off the rack (!) of entitled theater goers!

I could probably write a lot of detail about the Second City show, but others have done that before me. ¬†Many, many times in the 50 year history of the group. ¬†But I will say that I can’t remember laughing in such a full-guffawish way in a long time. ¬†More than two hours of high-quality entertainment.

We don’t do sketch comedy in The Sticks, but I bet we will at some point. ¬†Many of the scenes were revelations, finely crafted, perfectly paced. ¬†For us, the value (beyond laughing a lot) was in being able to see how those sketches started. ¬†You could see their origins as improv scenes and that was enlightening.

A talented group these Second City folks! ¬†We’ll do it again and I’m sure we may go this time in a station wagon. ¬†With wood paneling.

Sticks Pic: Chris B, Jen, Rachel, Marilyn at Long Wharf.

How To Own Your Own Harold – Group Mind

Sticks Author: Steve

When I was a small child, my Nana would tell me stories.  These were mostly stories she had heard during her days as a gypsy Рhaunting, vaguely European tales with harsh lessons involving witches, children, Baba Yaga and other wise crones with swollen, arthritic joints and plastic rain hats.  She would sit in a shadowy corner, knit with needles made from the bones of large birds of prey, and I would settle deeply into my Super Friends wolf skin duvet while servants tended the embers of a smoky fire.  She would start.

“This one,” she would always cackle. ¬†“This one is for you and for all the scamps like you. ¬†For all you pilferers of window sill pies, you stealers of paw paws, you trespassers of corn fields…”

My wizened, whiskered Nana, like most gypsies, liked copper pots, wooden beads, Woodstock and allegory.  Her tales always had a lesson and it was usually this one:

You think you know what you are talking about, but you don’t know what you are talking about and we’re all getting really sick of you and your know-it-all bullshit and we want to challenge you, you dicky little bastard and aren’t there like a million ways to do The Harold anyway and let’s do that now. ¬†God!

Admittedly, I don’t actually have a gypsy Nana. ¬†And admittedlier, nobody thinks I’m dicky. ¬†Right?

Right?

This is the normal way groups learn to do stuff together – with different approaches and opinions.

Have I mentioned that we’re trying to teach ourselves this thing called The Harold? ¬†Yes? ¬†Well, it’s true. ¬†We are all friends and have grown up together, married one another, and performed with each other for years, years, years. ¬†We spend time together. ¬†We vacation together. ¬†We drink together. ¬†We share clothes. ¬†We love each other. ¬†Learning to do this improv thing was a choice we all made together after Chris M suggested it. ¬†He’s our leader, has the most experience and I’m the guy who thinks he knows the rules to put in place because I read Truth In Comedy. ¬†Twice!

We are doing really well. ¬†Really well. ¬†Our first rehearsal for The Harold was in September 2010. ¬†We can do Harolds now. ¬†Real Harolds. ¬†And now it’s time to push on some of the rules that have been put in place to try and get better. ¬†The whole group is feeling it and driving it now.

Our first change? ¬†Group games. ¬†We can do them, but it’s just one of those things that I think seasoned improv people understand when they are watching it. ¬†But I’ve been to a few Harolds now with noobies and they don’t understand what the hell is going on with that. ¬†So… we’re pulling an idea from Truth In Comedy and going with mini monologues instead. ¬†We prefer opening with a monologist and it’s a group strength. ¬†Last week we went with an opening monologist and then 2 or 3 mini monologues in place of the group game.

Worked great. ¬†We’ll stick with it for now.

So what next? ¬†This group now knows what they’re doing and they want to try and do things now in different ways. ¬†Do we need so many rules around who the main characters are and how many times that actor can be a main character across the beats? ¬†Do we need to stick draconianly to “he/she who initiates becomes a main character”? ¬†Should we always try and move blazingly fast? ¬†All rules I introduced to (theoretically) ensure clarity, but do we need them any longer?

“Perhaps. ¬†Perhaps not,” my Nana would say. ¬†“But let the group decide Mr. Smartypants or Baba Yaga will eat you.”

IO West Harolds: Fast, Fast, Super Fast

Sticks author: Steve

I’m in LA where my pasty, puffy skin is burning. It’s like our hot denizen of outer space has something against the English and is making an example of me. Whatever sun! You may be big and important to photosynthesis, but you can’t deter me from gazing up in wonder at smog!

Also, and this is impotent. I am trying to write this on an iPad so there may be a few damn you autocorrect moments. Forgive me! I’m nude at this.

I am out here on very exciting business that I can’t talk about, but rest assured that it has nothing at all to do with me being a US Navy Seal. It’s more in the genre of jobs that people like me do. So if the Navy Seals are in the genre of Tom Clancy books, I am the equivalent of Judy Blume and not the sexy stuff like Are You There God It’s Me Margaret.

Speaking of sexy children’s books, The IO West theater is here with me in LA! It’s in a place called Hollywood that comes up every now and then in America. I was able to see a Harold each from The Cartel and Local 132.

I went with a group of advertising-type friends. It is the second time I have dragged a few of them to a Harold. Enjoyable fun the first time and this time for them. It’s funny the pressure I feel for it to be funny for them. I feel like it’s a very specific interest of mine and the beauty of improv may be something that not everybody digs. Especially a Harold!

But both groups had it all under control. They were sharp and clear and very funny. I found the group games to be particularly smart for both teams.

And the speed! Holy crap. Maybe 15 minutes each. Scenes were crazy fast. To me, as we have been discovering in our rehearsals, speed helps. I might have wanted some of the scenes to breathe a bit more, but the pace was very close to right for an audience.

One note on the opening. We tend to use a monologue. It’s a strength of our group across the board and I am more convinced than ever that it is the right way to go. Both of these teams used more of the living room, group discussion opening and while it worked for me, the folks I was with didn’t know what the deal was. They couldn’t follow it and then had trouble seeing the connections drawn from it into the beats.

Onward! I’d go to IO West or Chicago or East again.

There’s No Failure In Improv

Sticks Author: Steve

There’s no failure in improv.

Right?

Right?

Come on guys!  So I made a pretty large structural error in our Harold rehearsal.  All for one and one for all!

Who’s with me?

Hello?

Back when we were fledgling Harold rehearsers (1 month ago) we got slapped around a bit. ¬†And last night was another rough one. ¬†At one point, I thought we were in 2C, but it was 2B’s turn. ¬†Then, when I went on to 2C, I tried to do the group a “favor” by nudging things along into a logical third beat collision. ¬†Too early! ¬†Too early. ¬†It confused everybody as it seemed I was deciding to skip right into the third beat. ¬†There was other general sloppiness. ¬†Our pacing wasn’t as good as the last time. ¬†Kendra didn’t bring Cinnamon rolls.

But!  BUT!  This group is resilient, flexible (Jim can bend in half on the vertical axis), and funny.  There were some really great scenes, some excellent time dashes and some wonderful demonstrations of group mind.

Sitting there last night, deconstructing and analyzing what went wrong (my absolute favorite thing to do… seriously) I realized how much I love this group. ¬†We’ve been friends since junior high in many cases and have seen graduations, weddings, children, jobs, adoptions, houses, vacations, successes, failures, boobies (!), low hangers, bad hair (my Richard Marx mullet), good hair, chest hair, facial hair, Hair (let the sunshine in), movies, books, new friends, old friends, best friends, Friends, medical emergencies, medical necessities, medical marijuana (not really), good times, bad times, the Durham Fair, live dogs, dead dogs, dog bites, Spelling Bees, bee stings, Sting, comedy, tragedy (my Richard Marx mullet), Richard Marx, Billy Joe confused with Billy Joel, tears, laughter, hugs, kisses, boobies (again!), smoked meat products, weight loss, weight gain (I’m big boned), rogaine,¬†Novocain, Chicken Stemperata, Thai food, promotions, demotions, emotions, Animotion, objects in motion that tend to not stay in motion, motion pictures, moving pictures (today’s Tom Sawyer), sprained ankles, broken hearts, soaring hearts, kites, bikes, trikes, transvestites, shots, pots, cots, lots, and Sasquatch.

I love them all and would rather learn with them than anybody else.

I mean, I wouldn’t take a bullet for them because that would hurt. ¬†But I would give a very, very accurate description of the shooter so that the police sketch artist could get the investigation started on the right foot.

Get Out And Watch Improv

Sticks Author: Steve

I think it was Franklin Roosevelt who said “The best way to learn stuff is to get it taught to you or by buying a book about it or by watching a DVD. ¬†You could also consider watching other people do the thing that you want to learn. ¬†If you want. ¬†You know, if you have time for that kind of thing and like to watch people doing things. ¬†Sicko.”

He was a good Prime Minister of England, no question about it. ¬†And he could turn a phrase and end it in a judgement of your morals just like that. ¬†A lickety-split judger was ol’ Prime Minister Roosevelt. ¬†Well you know what your highness? ¬†Maybe I do like watching other people do things and maybe it is a good way to learn everything from juggling to loving. ¬†Get off your high horse Mr. Rough Rider!

By now, all of our regular readers (which is us, we’re insular AND provincial… take that Prince Roosevelt) know our story.

  1. There are 12 of us.
  2. Our average age is 38.
  3. Ages range from 25 to 50.
  4. Two of us have no children and the rest have 14 children. (Not each! Man. In total.)
  5. 5 couples, 4 of them married.
  6. We live in “The Sticks” of CT. ¬†Kind of. ¬†It’s not like banjo time, but we’re in a smallish town.
  7. We have corporate jobs, banky jobs, kid raising jobs, teachery jobs.

So, we aren’t in a position to take regular classes even though we’re only a couple of hours outside of NY/Boston. ¬†We rehearse now only once per week and we are self directed (i.e. we drink a lot at rehearsal).

Teaching ourselves has been fun, audacious and sometimes bodacious. ¬†There are resources for learning improv, but we are often struck at the opportunity that some of the larger improv theaters are missing. ¬†I’d shell out many of my corporate job dollars to buy better instructional books (perhaps I expect too much, but Truth In Comedy just isn’t that well constructed) and instructional DVDs. ¬†Heck, we just want to see clean, solid video examples of full Harolds. ¬†Tough to find even on the internet and the internet has lots of things in it.

We need to get out and see more improv.

Last night, every member of The Sticks (except Thom who was being a Father for goodness sake) got out to see the 2-year anniversary show of Sea Tea Improv. ¬†Improv circles I think are tight and we’ve been learning about Sea Tea via Twitter, Facebook and other cool webbish devices for a while. ¬†They seem like good people and we like good people more than we like bad people except when we want somebody to do something bad to/for us.

Not only was it a fun night out for The Sticks (plus my wife went too!) with adult drinks adult food adult conversation and adult bookstores, but it was a treat to watch an improv group perform. ¬†We learned a lot. ¬†It was a short form show, but we love short form. ¬†There is plenty to be applied to the shorter bits of our longer form Harolds. ¬†The truth is, we’re not really having a hard time any longer with the structure of The Harold – but we have plenty of room to get better at many of the things that are on display in short form.

The game structure is something that we need to apply to our intermezzo (yes I speak Italian… please form an orderly line ladies) group games. ¬†Sea Tea is particularly skilled it seems at listening to one another – again something that any improv group needs. ¬†There was a calm cleverness to the delivery that was right on also. ¬†You never saw somebody making a joke just to make a joke. ¬†Things were true to their characters and relationships. ¬†We laughed a lot which is good since it was a comedy show. ¬†One of us cried, but it was because we almost didn’t have enough seats. ¬†That one of us was me because I had planned the little field trip. ¬†Okay? ¬†Are you happy now making me admit that I cried?

So, yes! ¬†Mr. Roosevelt. ¬†You were right about the going-and-seeing-things-to-learn-about-them theory. ¬†Good for you! ¬†But let’s face it. ¬†You were way off on a bunch of other things. ¬†Still, we’ll keep following your advice. ¬†It’s time for us to see more improv whenever and wherever we can.

The Harold Makes Us All Its Bitches

Sticks Author: Steve

Rehearsal! ¬†And that means cherry pie from Kendra. ¬†And cinnamon buns from Kendra. ¬†And scones from Alison. ¬†Christ! ¬†All I can tell you is that if you don’t get that at your rehearsal, you need to get a Kendra and an Alison.

You can’t have ours. ¬†Find your own.

The group was itching to get back to The Harold. ¬†We made progress on creating more solid scenes and characters and felt that we’d carry it over into a good ol’ rompy Harold.

And The Harold said “Take THAT! ¬†And that. ¬†And THAT! ¬†Respect me bitches!”

And bitches we were made. ¬†Sticks no more…. bitches of the Harold.

Stuff was still funny. ¬†(These people are funny… I’m telling you.. every last one of them.) ¬†But the scenes were sprawling, sailing, time dashing away from clarity. ¬†We had characters, but we failed to anchor the scenes as we edited in and out. ¬†People playing main characters also got brought in to be different characters. ¬†By the end, had we been the audience, we would not have known what happened or what really held the whole thing together.

Focus for next time will be to keep the characters very firmly established and to not dash too far away from them in each beat.

Successes¬†however! ¬†Rachel monologized despite her insistence that she has no stories. ¬†Bah! ¬†Let’s just say she’s lived a little bit. ¬†She’s got stories. ¬†Off of a suggestion of “beach” she took us on vacations, adventures across swamps, into the lives of Candy, Nina, and Deena, into a sprawling beach house of splendor and a humble cabin. ¬†We had polygamists, bouncers, Madonna and… and …. XANADU!

Also, two of our stronger group games.

In any event, onward! ¬†We’re at the point where we can be pretty darn hard on ourselves as we try and get better. ¬†Everybody has thick skin.

Except me. ¬†I’m a fragile flower with delicate petals made of insecurity and pollen made of doubt and a flaccid stamen and a.. stem .. made from infinitely extended metaphors.

Of Montreal, Gronlandic Edit.  Physics makes us all its bitches.


She’s A Super Freak, Super Control Freak

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 ‚Äúissue‚ÄĚ 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‚Ķ except for one ten-minute period when I have to leave the auditorium and hide in the bathroom.¬† It‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs 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,¬†¬† ‚ÄúOrder. Design. Composition. Tone. Form. Symmetry. Balance.‚Ä̬† 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.

 

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