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.

1/ The RULES RULE

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.

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