pep talk

Support

I went to a show last week where there were 6 people in the audience, including the director (who was taking notes).

In cases like this, I feel it is my duty to laugh as much as possible, because I am sympathetic to how nerve-wracking it is to perform for a tiny unresponsive crowd.

And as I sat there, giggling as much as I could honestly muster, I realized: part of what I love about watching improv is feeling like I’m a part of it, like I’m supporting the players, like my joy (and expression of it) is the fuel that lets them do their awesome thing.

It satisfies that craving to make the world a better place.

 

…..

 

I’ve realized that I usually play better/more fearlessly with less experienced players— partly because less experienced players often go to crazytown, thus providing me with easy opportunities for honest reactions & calling out their contradictions— but largely because I can see that they’re more scared than I am.

SOMEONE’S got to drive the scene somewhere. And if it’s just the two of us on stage, and if it seems unlikely to be them, then I guess it’s gotta be me.

And so I actually pull my weight and support my scene partner.

When I play with equally/more experienced players, though, I’m the scared one, and I almost always make them lead. I hardly ever initiate, walk on, tag out. I “yes” whatever ideas they throw at me, but I struggle to “yes AND” to build the scene.

In my head, I’m supporting them by not fucking up whatever brilliant ideas they’re trying to accomplish. In reality, I’m only supporting by being another warm body on stage, which is maybe comforting but not particularly helpful.

 

(For this reason, I dream of doing a practice session [or two] where we agree that *I* have to initiate every scene I’m in. Even on days when I decide that I will force myself to do lots of initiations, my scene partner is quicker on the draw and always starts a scene before I’ve quite pieced together a coherent idea. Because this happens pretty much every time, I’ve given up trying. “Go on, partner,” I say, “what have you got? I got an emotion, and I’ll mirror you, but I got nothin’ to say. Initiate for me, I’ll wait.”

Ick. Talk about leaving someone out there.)

 

…..

 

I was asked to do a small show last week with one of the Magnet veteran house teams. One of them had seen me do jams, apparently, and liked the cut of my jibe. I immediately agreed to it, because DUH. But I knew it wasn’t going to go great— I hadn’t done any long form in months, I hadn’t done this specific form EVER, the show was late at night and my brain was foggy… but most of all, I knew I’d be playing with veteran improvisers I admire, and I knew I’d play scared because of that.

Which is pretty much how it went down.

I’m not devastated, but I am annoyed at myself.

…..

 

So. Points:

  1. I am good at supporting from the audience. This makes me feel good.
  2. I am pretty okay at supporting less experienced players onstage. This makes me feel pretty good.
  3. I am not good at supporting more experienced players onstage. This makes me feel bad.

 

Conclusions:

The more experience I have, the more situations will statistically fall into categories #1 and #2, and fewer into #3, and I will therefore feel good a higher percentage of the time. Keep on truckin’.

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Coming out

Woooooooo!!!

 

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving a social gathering, my good friend since middle school (high school besties!) took me aside and shyly/excitedly mentioned that she was taking group music lessons, and she somehow ended up being the singer, and the group was performing in a bar in our hometown in a couple weeks, and, y’know, if I had time, maybe I could swing by?

“YES!” I screamed, surprising both of us. “YES holy fuck that’s AWESOME!!!!!!!”

This past week, I drove an hour to come see her, and it was amazing. All the student musicians had only first touched their instruments three months ago, and I was super impressed. But the part that made my heart explode— my introverted friend strutted onto that stage and fucking OWNED it, on pitch, rocking the fuck out. Were there a couple notes that weren’t quite what I remembered from the radio cuts, maybe. I didn’t care. I was grinning with glee the whole freaking time.

And I thought: I bet this is what it’s like for outsiders to come watch their friends do a Level 1 improv class show.

If I’d known, back when I was taking Level 1, that my beginner-level skills had the power to spark such joy for other people, I’d’ve told everyone.

 

……….

 

I just hit my one-year-since-starting-Level-1 Improv-ersary last week.

 

And my brain said:

Hey.

It’s been a year, and I’m still doing this.

Why am I still doing it?

I’m sort of convinced that everyone secretly hates me, and I’m working through some petty angry drama on my end right now, so the social thing isn’t a strong motivator these days, so… not that.

I didn’t suddenly get good at improv, so not that.

It still scares the bejeezus out of me, so not that.

Right now, I’m not taking classes, I’m not on a team, and I’m not organizing a practice group. I have zero obligation to commit time to improv, but I’m still carving out time for it.

Why?

Am I in this for real?

Have I proven that I’m not going to drop this the moment it gets hard to handle?

Am I an improviser yet?

 

……….

 

I have told probably ~4 people outside of the improv community that I do improv. Word spreads anyway— “Wait, whoa, WHO said I was doing an improv thing last Friday? I never told HER I do this…!”— and photos/posts/links/event tags leak through Facebook, even if you hide stuff from your Timeline.

I’ve always been afraid that non-improvisers:

  1. Will judge me offstage, because I’m not the most hilarious person offstage.
  2. Will judge me onstage, because they’re expecting Whose Line and I’m Amateur Hour.
  3. Will constantly ask me “so how’s improv going?!”, and I’ll go through a rough patch where I don’t want to talk about it, or I’ll quit improv and everyone will keep asking “so how’s improv going?!”, and I’ll have to face a bunch of really awkward uncomfortable conversations.

Those are all still concerns. I’m not going to start broadcasting my improv life to the world anytime soon.

But with hitting the one-year mark, something in me was like: You can come out now. Maybe this IS just a phase for you. But it’s shaping up to be a long phase. And it’s been a part of your life for long enough. You shouldn’t have to hide it.

So. This little light of mine? Maybe it’s time to start creeping out from under this bushel.

 

……….

 

My friend and I chatted after she sang her heart out in the bar.

“Some woman came up to me and said, ‘You looked like you were having fun!'” she said. “In other words, we sounded awful!”

“No no no no no no no!” I said. “Looking like you’re having fun onstage is half of it!”

She seemed skeptical.

“No, so, look, I’ve been doing improv— comedy— in New York for a year—” I blurted.

“Wait, WHAT?!” she said. “That’s awesome! How did I not know this?!”

“You didn’t know because I don’t tell anyone. I think you’re the fifth person I’ve told. I’m coming out, haha!”

She chuckled. I prattled on.

“In the improv that I’ve been watching, the best groups are the ones having the most fun, see. Skill is part of it, sure, but if YOU ain’t having fun, ain’t NOBODY having fun.”

 

That’s where I am right now. Stop hiding. Come out, have fun, shine bright. Only asshole snobs give a fuck whether your brightness comes from a $2 LED flashlight or a $4000 track lighting system. Bright is bright, and your brightness has the power to rock the world of everyone around you.

Polishing your diamonds

CC, Parent Géry, Wikimedia Commons

I keep thinking about something I read in The Boiling Point a while back.

 Your weaknesses never really go away. …when you have more reps, you’re able to lessen the effects.  I believe your weak spots will always be weak, but there are degrees of weakness.  With a ton of rust, your trouble spots just feel much larger.  With practice, you can manage their symptoms.

In other words, everything you’re bad at now, you will always be bad at, sorry.

…..

I think we all come into improv as big chunks of ore with little diamonds in our rough– little talents that were already there to start with. And with training, we can extract and polish all those diamonds into exquisite gems. But when we don’t already have a specific diamond there in the rough beginning, we can’t just make it appear. We can distract from the missing diamonds by showing off our polished gems, or we can throw some of our non-precious ore into a rock tumbler and show that off too, but we can’t polish a diamond that was never there.

Wikimedia commons, CC, 88pathoffroad

Tumbled worthlessness = very pretty worthlessness

Almost since I started improv, I’ve focused on polishing my non-precious ore, because frankly, any improviser should. I don’t want to rely on crutches and bad habits.

cristal de diamant sur conglomérat - crystal of diamond in conglomerate

But it’s so frustrating– no matter how hard I polish, all the ore is still rough and worthless. Worthless, everything I have is fucking worthless.

And then I remembered that I DO have some diamonds.

So right now, I’m trying to spend some time polishing the little diamonds I’ve been neglecting, and take some time away from the ore.

Is this something I would recommend? No. It’s a crutch. A bad habit.

But don’t forget about your diamonds.
Diamonds

 

 

All images used here are released under a Creative Commons license and link back to their source.

And please note: Everything stated here is just my own dumb opinion.

Finding passion

High on jet lag after a successful family reunion on the other side of the country, during which time I established myself as “one of the funny cousins” and remembered how good it feels to have people laugh at your jokes, I went to my first Del Close Marathon (#DCM16) on Friday night. After watching 7 groups of high quality improv, I’m starting to remember why I want to do this.

The best groups—in my estimation—look like they’re having fun. They are doing ridiculous exaggerated characters, and doing buttloads of physical silliness, and calling out everything illogical (which I love to do!).

I mean, that’s not all of it, of course. Part of what separates the wheat from the chaff (IMHO) is an extra helping of intelligence, wit, and fearlessness. And I have to face the reality that maybe I will never fully own those traits. But in the words of Rick Andrews’ Magnet podcast interview (~20:52):

“In Level 1, it’s ‘get over the fear,’ but it’s also like, ‘here are some tools,’ and you teach people character, and emotion, things like that. And they’re not tools just because, like, someone said they are. Like, the more I teach the class, the more it’s apparent to me that these are tools because they help us not think. Character and emotion helps you be in the moment and express yourself. They are ways to fight the fear. They are ways to kill that stuff so you can just follow your passion.”

and

“It’s just so much easier to follow passion than it is to follow…”
“…an obligation.”

My point: I’m finding that briefly distancing myself (both physically and mentally) is providing a helpful viewpoint for seeing that any worthwhile pursuit of comedy comes from love, not from obligation and dread… and I’m making a liiiiitle bit of headway in finding that love, and losing that obligation and dread.