Sunday, April 19, 2015

Exper, A Course in Life: Week... 8.5

So here we are, week just-past-8, comedy student life experiment. Where are the posts on weeks 4 through 8, you might ask? None of your busy little business, that's where, and I'll thank you to get off of my back already.

I started this exercise as an experiment in the lifelong and inarguably noble pursuit of all things funny, smart and (*sigh*) cool. I took improv classes at Magnet for 8 weeks, as promised, and performed in a free show, as promised. I went to a whole bunch of really fantastic comedy shows. I worked on a set of tenuous relationships with a kind and brave group of fellow explorers, whose very young ages, as I've mentioned, startled me to my core. The classes were great. The show was stupendous and maybe even alarmingly funny. You'll never know, so I may as well gush! Regardless, it made my heart race and I felt like we won and that's about as good as you can ask for, I think.

In short, I geeked out on a new thing and had a kick-ass time.

Here's what I learned!

1. I am clearly still 100% incapable of completing a writing project. WHAT, AND ALSO WHY. I love to write more than anything and I swear on all things holy that I want nothing more than to become a writer, and yet. And yet! Here we are again, sniffling over the forgotten crumbs of what could have been a complete and very nice bit of work, 4/9ths of an actual prize. Apparently public commitment to said project completion means nothing to me in terms of making sure to carve out the time. Nobody is more disappointed about this than me. Literally. Probably nobody noticed or cared.

2. Being nearly out of your 20s and also having a job that requires you to constantly be putting all your shit right out on the table both help a lot in terms of calming, dare I say eradicating, the nerves. This comes into sharp relief when in a room full of extremely nervous young-20-somethings who are about to take the stage for a free comedy show to a kind-hearted and mildly intoxicated audience, a show that has almost no bearing on anything at all. It's nice to be moving toward being done with all of that, even if it may come with the promise of wrinkles.

3. Improv is ephemeral. LIKE LIFE.

4. Regardless of the discipline, there's nothing better than finding yourself in the presence of a wonderful teacher.

5. The funny and the smart are both buried deep, waiting to be discovered by a suitable archaeologist. I know what you're thinking! But no. Wrong. Wonderful teachers are put into your life to get you 95% of the way there, but the true scientist is always you, every single time. Your life is your OWN experiment. Om bolo shri sat guru bhagavan ki. Also, cool continues to be a non-issue. Build it, using your carefully harvested smarts and funnies, and then really *believe* in it with all your might and the cool will come. JAI.

6. Just when you're starting to feel pretty good about the thing, it's time to start over.

And start over we shall! Level 2 starts May 31. I have already begun sharpening my pencils in preparation.

Thank you, Rick, for being a really great teacher. I loved your rules and games and your big booming voice, ZAYN! I nearly fell over with happiness when you gave me a gold star for my laying-on-a-trampoline work, which I agree was next-level. You are funny and smart and you really care, which is what makes the whole thing so cool. Your students are lucky to have you.

Thank you to my amazing team for being such a wonderfully funny, smart and cool group of people to work and learn and play with. I loved all your personalities and your brains and learning that you were scared and unsure when you looked so goddamned chill. Thank you for being so incredibly brave as to choose to participate in this particular piece of the big experiment. I am really sad that we're not all going to hang out and play this afternoon. I mean it.

Thank you to the Magnet Theater for fostering such an amazing community of talented, inspiring humans. Thanks for giving us a format for social permission to work toward happy bodies and happy brains.

Thank you to my friends and family for your continued support of my experimentation. It means everything because it is everything.

Improv is love.


Monday, March 9, 2015

Exper: A Course in Life, Weeks 2 & 3

I didn't end up writing anything in week 2. You don't care, and yet I must get defensive and protest that this is not to say that nothing went down! It merely delineates that some very important time was spent binging on House of Cards (season 3: meh), Grey's Anatomy (decent) and Downton Abbey (BEST EVER I DIE). I did also do a bunch of work and teach 10 classes (please hold your applause until the conclusion of the post). And I sallied forth in the noble pursuit of the study of improv!

YAY! Improv! Improv improv improv!

If we've interacted for more than five minutes at any point, you'll know that I love to be obsessed with things, and improv class is proving no exception. I don't find obsession to be creepy; I just see absolutely no point in half-assing anything and improv is currently pretty high on the list of efforts toward which I am delegating my full ass. So I am really trying, to the best of my ability, to do the thing. I am attending class and reading books and attending shows when possible. I am juggling my husband and my handful of jobs and dragging said husband and said jobs across town to the improv theater a few times per week. I am watching shows with medium-good improvisers and I am watching shows with very good improvisers. I am balancing my personal enjoyment of the comedy at hand with ferociously critical study of technique. I am listening and watching Very Carefully. I am Absorbing.

So far, I have noticed the following:

1. When improv is Very Good, it is *unbelievable*. I know I lean on the side of superlative, but I straight-up mean it this time. Pure, unadulterated disbelief, that this stuff is happening off the cuff. I like few things more than to have my mind blown, so needless to say this is thrilling to witness. 
2. When improv is Not Very Good, it is somewhat awkward and disappointing for the audience member and likely for the comedian/enne, and then everyone moves on with their lives and everything is and continues to be fine.

I am pleased with these findings because they give me something to be excited about and they are also a reminder that a the occasional lackluster yoga class is, similarly, nothing to cry over. Life moves on and nobody cares. Or at least certainly nobody cares as much as you do. This is a good thing.

I continue to find yoga and improv to be more or less the exact same discipline, which is to say they are organized permission to feel good and let your brain and body fulfill their potential. I had a conversation to that effect with a classmate, a comedian-turned-yogi who is friends with my cool/smart/funny friend Emily, the yogi-comedienne who introduced me to this whole thing to begin with. If you followed all that, high five. He agreed! And we were both really stoked to have found outlets and communities to help create happy bodies and happy brains. What could be better?

In week three of classes, I finally decided to be a rebel and leave my notebook and three pens at home. Instructor Rick said something really great, goddammit, so I ended up having to quickly type it down in the notes section of my phone. It absolutely killed me that I'm sure it looked like I was texting and not paying attention during this time. RICK I WAS TAKING NOTES AND I AM SORRY.

-- By the way, if you are interested in earning my undying admiration, all you have to do is become a halfway-decent instructor of any kind. Blow my mind with something simple and true (see above in re: obsession and also mind-blowing) and I will follow you around like an overexcited intern, making mental or physical note of your every word for as long as that isn't annoying, and sometimes well past that point. --

Anyhow, the noteworthy thing was this. We played a game where we had to do a brainstorm about a fake product. For each product attribute or sales idea mentioned, the whole team had to give a full-body YES right then and there. Yell it with your mouth and convey bodily excitement as well. So you build this crazy positive energy and that starts to feel really exciting, because we all know that attitude is the thing just as much as anything else. We control perception and perception creates reality. So the point of the game was to practice feeling fully immersed in every thing that happens over the course of a game, because there's no going back once the improv has started. "No matter what happens," he said, "it's your job to find a way to make it work. The behavior that happened or the thing that was said - why is that great? How is that perfect?" Classic Tim Gunn 101. Fair warning, I'm using this as dharma in my yoga classes all week. You always have a choice as to how you react and what story you choose to tell; YOU choose which reality you want to make true. THE WHOLE THING IS IMPROV, all of it. We can only move forward. Make it great, let it be perfect. That was my note, no pens needed.

A final item - I found out in the cutest way that I am one of the oldest people in my class. A cool/funny/smart fellow student who I thought to be roughly my age made a joke about studying for her midterms, and then laughed and said, "gosh, midterms, that makes me sound so young!" I asked if she was a grad student, and she said no, undergraduate. And then she said she was 22 in a voice that sounded like she felt strongly that 22 was not a very young age to be. And then other classmates that I had also thought were my age started chirping in about also being 22, or being 24 or 25 or 27. If I had been a cartoon person, you would have heard the deflation noise as my plastic body puddled to the floor. This is one of my first experiences being and truly feeling older than people in an organized setting and I cannot believe how my mind immediately jumped to thoughts of being some sort of educational cougar, like I should be ashamed of myself for being at improv class instead of having a job that involves real pants. I was so surprised to find that I care about age, and as of yet I don't know how to make it perfect, make it great.

So that's my next task, I suppose. Onward.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Exper: A Course in Life, Week 1

My first improv class was last week!

I have not had time to write anything about it, because Clay and I have been frantically re-plowing through the previous seasons of House of Cards in an inappropriately short period of time, trying to cram them in before the new season launched (today). Also because despite the fact that I quit my fancy advertising job a year ago, I somehow now have three or four jobs, all of which are exhausting and time-consuming (also, low-paying, sometimes tedious and always rewarding/completely amazing). Regardless, I haven't had a minute. Also, we didn't even make it all through season one. We are watching the season finale right now, neither of us paying attention, which means we're going to need to watch it a third time. If someone could do for me a UPS guy whiteboard-style explanation of the SanCorp-Tusk situation, I would really appreciate it.

To put it simply, I liked my improv class a lot. I liked the other people in the class, I liked the instructor, I liked the fact that this sort of thing is available where I live and that we had all come together in search of it. For a nominal fee, you can be given social permission to do things that come naturally to children - in this case, using your imagination. As someone who gently prods you into moving your body after years of being told to sit still, it is clear that the improv folks and me are in the same business. This is the business of unleashing your emotional demons for the betterment of the entire universe. Anyhow, we did all the things that you wanted us to do - awkward icebreakers, making noises and superhero gesticulations, discussion of the theory of 'YES, AND' and three hours of playing pretend. It was so much fun.

More specifically, here are the things that I liked about it.


Improv, while ultimately a silly business, is not some sort of willy-nilly free-for-all. Like yoga, it is a discipline, and the practice of improv is a (loosely) structured team effort or nobody eats. There are clearly defined rules, which are explained prior to each exercise by our cool, funny and smart instructor, Rick. During the game, he interrupts occasionally to issue gentle reprimands when people are not following the rules. He does this with all the firm cool politeness of the English nobility. He spares no-one; not the obviously cool drama class kid nor the woman who speaks almost no English and very clearly has no idea what we're talking about or asking her to do. My ridiculous regard for rule-following has been documented at length; this sort of behavior makes my heart swell. He interrupted me one time and I was so embarrassed, I didn't speak again for twenty minutes. Both improv and western society run on the assumption that participants have agreed to abide by a set system of rules; without this, all is chaos. And we can't have that.

2/ I am nothing if not MYSELF

Despite being a bashful mess at my own wedding for some unexplained reason, I love to be the center of attention. I will steal the spotlight at pretty much any cost, and performance art is certainly no exception. My mother has photos and a pretty good story about me doing this in a community theater production of A Little Princess at the age of 9; despite being very firmly in the chorus with one, maybe two lines max, I pretended to be the lead throughout every performance of the show, mimicking her every move from the background of the scene. I more or less elbowed the other chorus girls (my best friends) out of the way, on stage. I do not recall doing this but the photos are very plain, an incriminating detail that cannot be overlooked. I also don't remember anybody ever telling me that I was doing this or chastising me throughout the course of the show, so I can only hope it was cute or funny or unnoticeable, although the photos would beg otherwise. Anyhow, once we got to the part of the class where the floor was opened up for folks to step in, I could not help but volunteer myself over and over. As soon as a scene started, my brain started furiously pumping about how I could contribute, or, even better, start the next one. I got another gentle reprimand from Rick, this time about taking turns. It was mortifying, sure, and it felt like coming home. This is embarrassing to admit in a public forum, but I'm somewhat comforted to know that this still pervades. It's not a likable quality, but uncontrollable ambition does begrudgingly command a certain amount of respect. I will attempt to be more courteous to my classmates moving forward, but please know that it's killing me on the inside.

3. Improv, like most things worth pursuing, is WORK

It is not easy to be funny. It is not easy to anticipate what people will like. It is not easy to remember to trip over props that do not exist. It is not easy to wholeheartedly go with the implied assumptions of a person you just met an hour and twenty minutes ago, whose brain-space you do not yet even begin to understand, while living in a city which constantly reinforces the idea of sleeping with one eye open. All of this is okay with me. I love to be a student, and I love to work. If pencils weren't the bane of my left-handed existence I would have sharpened myself a nice bouquet before class. I brought three pens instead, on the off chance that A. we had to take notes (we didn't) and B. something happened to the first two pens (it didn't). I believe in preparedness and I believe in work. I like the idea that I am a student of comedy, just like I like the idea that I am a student of yoga and a student of life. I believe that the good things in this life are worth studying, and I am looking forward to having something new and entirely non-take-apart-able to try to dissect.

That's all. Week one was fun. Week two is in hot pursuit, and I am looking forward to it.

By the way, we decided to do this 9-minute teaser recap thing instead of re-watching everything because Clay had his pants on fire and just could not wait for me to sharpen my pencils over what exactly Francis was up to in season two (spoiler alert: it was a lot). If you have access to the UPS guy with the whiteboard, please do send him my way. RAP RAP.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Exper: A Course in Life

My entire life, or at least since the beginning of my social awareness, I have been trying desperately, to varying levels of success, to achieve the following adjectives/personal labels:

1. cool
2. funny
3. smart

Luckily, once you hit the mid-late 20s I think you begin to take on the mental capacity to understand that 'cool' is something you are born with. If you were not, attempting to find it is a waste of time and anxiety and money and headspace. I now understand that 'cool' should be replaced on everyone's list with 'confident' or 'secure' or something of the sort, and that switcheroo should happen just about as soon as possible. Cool is exhausting. Just do you. And THAT, my friends, is what makes you cool. This is why the nerds prosper later on in life, once they work up the juice to be psyched about their nerd status. Nerds are usually nerds because they're uncommonly good at something that society eventually values, even if it's video games.

Also luckily, to the same extent that cool is not a thing, I find that being funny is just highlighting the best parts of situations, something anyone can do, and being smart is within the reach of pretty much anybody who's interested. Taking most of the time and energy you used to spend trying to crimp your hair (cool) and diverting all of that into the never-ending quest for funnies and smarts will take you far in life.

This is my postulate.

I found myself in a bit of a rut on the above as of late, as ya do, and as such have signed myself up for an 8-week course in improvisational comedy. Improv classes! At a theater. In Manhattan. FREE SHOW AT THE END OF THE COURSE. What is this life?!?! I have also found myself in a bit of a rut on the writing front and thought I'd marry the two here for you, an upstanding member of the society that values the two-for-one. In my head, there are endless parallels to be drawn between the ability to disregard one's awkwardness and all things that are beautiful in life and I plan to carry on about those parallels at great length in this public forum. And likely also in my yoga classes. Get excited.

This is to be categorized as a Life Experiment. Because what is life, if not one giant improvisational comedy? Nobody knows what's coming next, not even your shaman, you shameless hipster. And comedy can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.* I must take the time here to express the urgency with which I recommend experimentation. Without a bit of experimentation in our lives, we devote our existence toward the paying of bills, and this I can neither live with nor abide. Experimentation is how we learn and have experiences. Seek out any word with the root 'exper,' really, and only good stuff can come of it. I also believe that it is possible to experiment within the guidelines of the rules and laws of your given society. This is how genius money machines like molecular gastronomy and yoga teacher training and trapeze classes end up making the big bucks (do they? I have no idea). Plenty of drug-free fun to be had out there, people! Only you can prevent forest fires.

I will begin my improv education at the Magnet Theater. I know two things about the Magnet Theater:

A. My cool, funny and smart friend Emily works/performs there
B. My cool, funny and smart friend Kelly took improv classes there, and when I mentioned Emily (A.) she said, "I've heard of her. She's cool and funny. And smart."

Magnet Theater, please take my money.

Class starts tomorrow. I signed up for it yesterday. I'll see you on the other side.

*Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, quote modified, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (screenplay)