Errr. No probably not. So sorry to disappoint you all. I know you are all eager to hear that I have finally broken into the world of showbiz. And no this is not a post detailing a new extravagant rouse for finally getting too close to Alec Baldwin either. I promise. This is simply a tale of Sunday night improvised comedy.
My new passion.
Always keen to try something strange and wonderful in this city of endless offerings, I bundled up against the bitterly frozen air that has besieged Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, and made my way across town to an Upper West Side improv free for all.
For a mere $10 one can partake in an improv class, performing to one’s peers, and then follow that up with tickets to an actual show done by the professionals. A bargain on a Sunday night.
Class began promptly at 5:30pm. I particularly enjoyed the opening introductions where we were invited to outline any previous experience. Actors, improv pros and regular showmen announced their credentials and then our teacher turned to me. “Little” old pipetting me.
“Erm…. I was in a play once. I was 9 years old. Had a singing role in fact (although that was soon nipped in the bud). Other parents commented on my convincing portrayal of an elderly woman tasked with taking in some city evacuees during WWII. Some believed the singing to be in the comedic style. That was unintentional but by that I likely mean subconscious. I was channelling my true calling. Stand up.”
Silence, as they swallowed this information and probably tried to decipher my accent.
“Australian? No Kiwi right? Well darn it. She doesn’t sound like the Queen?”
Yes my dear readers I was the only novice. And I was about to be thrown in the really deep end. The deep deep end where, if you are unable to swim, you almost certainly will drown, and struggling for air as your lungs fill with chlorine treated water, you die. Slowly and painfully. On a stage.
First off we were enlisted to stand in a line, facing our experienced peers in a game called “Yes, and…” In this way your positive approach to the improvisation would ensure the story keeps rolling and doesn’t falter at the hurdle that can only best be described as me. Cue our coach. He heralds a story opening line and we must take it on. Each individual, beginning with “yes..and…”, adding an extra dimension to the narrative. I took the story to new levels of bland.
Next up and we were encouraged to work on our justifications. As you can imagine, a story soon becomes dull if the background detailing is not filled in at some point. Using the very useful word “because” we all had to justify a statement made by our predecessor. “He picked up the knife…. because he intended to slay his wife with it after witnessing her pitiful display of carrot chopping.” Simply picking up the knife would be boring I am sure you would agree.
Again I added a dimension of dreary to the proceedings as my fellow classmates pranced and acted all over the room, I tugged on my jeans frantically trying to think of some ideas. It is truly amazing how a blank a mind can be in times of forced improvisation.
Our final exercise was to perform in small groups of one or two under the instruction of our master. He would offer a storyline and point at us and we would rush up on stage and improvise a scene. I was Rosalind’s daughter. (Rosalind is a pro. She was in the show afterwards.) We were to go on a walk, mother and daughter, with the aim of building a relationship plot for the audience.
“Nice weather for a walk daughter?”
“No it’s raining,” I exclaimed and little else.
Distractingly my colleague was a veteran improviser and took the scene along nicely and almost single-handedly. Dragging me through kicking and screaming.
And then we were done. Tonight we had learned to listen. And yes…. add on. Create back stories for our relationships and justify all our statements to ensure depth of interest. Yet now I am fully warmed up and raring to go but instead I was to sit still and watch the show, concentrating hard to reign my hilarious comments in. Not wanting to blurt out improvised gems mid show.
Because I will say it now and again if noone stops me, “Don’t offer me a stage as I will be incapable of exiting it”