Ok, so there was no flop sweat and I definitely wasn’t the worst in the class (nor was I the best). Sometimes my mind was a blank, and sometimes I did well. I laughed a lot.
Last night, I attended an improv workshop, hosted by World Class Indifference, an
improv comedy team.
Our lead teacher, Christina, began by telling us something counterintuitive—improv comedy is not about being funny. Instead, it is about being willing to try anything, letting go of worry and relinquishing control.
If there is a better metaphor for what I am trying to do with my yearlong challenge, I don’t know what it is.
Standing in a circle, we began with some easy warm-ups—stretches, silly vocal exercises, telling a story one word at a time. Then Christina asked for volunteers for our first scene in front of the class. I was the first to volunteer. Are you proud?
My partner and I took turns saying one line at a time. The trick was, the lines had to be alphabetized. His sentence started with A, so mine started with B. And so on, all the way to Z. For someone who makes a living as a writer, I displayed a terrible command of the English language. I literally couldn’t think of one word that started with F. I’m not kidding. They had to yell out suggestions. Furthermore. For your information. First of all. Fear
In another exercise, Christina called out different states of emotion mid-scene, and we had to adopt them immediately.
Christina: Dory, be frightened!
Me: Oh my God, he’s coming here to kill us.
Christina: Now be determined!
Dory: But he’ll have to get past my gun first.
Christina: Dory, you’re cheap!
Dory: He won’t be any trouble once he gets a load of my lady parts.
Christina: Dory, be sunburned!
Dory: Never again will I wear that thong bikini he gave me. My ass is redder than an apple!
Over the course of the class, we learned a few improv rules. “Yes, and” means that you accept what your partner says and build on it. So if your partner says you are a purple elephant, you are. No arguing just because you had a different idea for the scene.
Also, you are not supposed to ask any questions. Questions put too much pressure on your partner to carry the scene. This rule was surprisingly difficult to follow.
Me: What’s wrong? [O, crap, that’s a question.]
Partner: I don’t feel well.
Me: What is it? [Crap! Another question!]
Partner: My stomach hurts.
Me: Was it something you ate? [Aaarrrgggh!]
This went on for a while.
Everyone, students and teachers alike, was extremely supportive and kind. My heart went out to one extremely shy woman who struggled with English. The teacher was so gentle and generous during their scene. She helped her when she stumbled, kindly encouraged her to contribute and made her look really good. The woman ended up enjoying herself and got a big round of applause. What a triumph!
I had hoped I wouldn’t be nervous once the class got going. But every time I went up to do a scene, I felt panicked. There were a few times during the scenes, though, when I was lost in the moment and it was pure fun.
I plan to go back for more. But I bet I will still be scared.