Here I was on a Saturday afternoon, scared and confident at the same time.
I could do improv, right? I had seen enough of it, in Chelsea at the United Citizens Brigade, and in Chicago at Second City, and even in Amsterdam, with a Second City import. Turns out, I had no idea how to go about it. For one thing, you need quick action, razor sharp reactions. There's no time to let your mind wander. Boom, boom, boom, point to someone in a 20-person circle. That person says your name while you move across to their spot, by which time they have pointed to another person who must say their name. Took me a while to get the hang of that. You adapt or die, so to speak. Panic taught me to catch on.
A little easier exercise was word association, just going around the circle. Then, a twist, how about doing the word "behind" the first word that comes to your mind? It's much more interesting than the first word. So instead of responding "orange" to someone's "apple," say, you would come up with "slice" or "grapefruit." Your mind begins to see the possibilities. Then we arose in 5-person groups to tell the story of "Noah's Arc." Two tricks there, first be ready to pick up when our teacher calls on you, even finishing the *word* of the person before you. Be ready to stop anywhere too. What I learned in this exercise was that too much creativity can get you in trouble. You are part of a TEAM. If you go too far from the main story, you put your teammates in jeopardy. A person on another team brought up how Noah found a surfboard. Our teacher stopped them and pointed out how veering that far off track was not a good thing, since it would result in losing the whole Noah story, as four other people struggled to build on the surfboard theme.
Then came an improvised monologue, based on a phrase from our instructor. Easy-peasy for me, right? I took the workshop on acting and writing and did a full-blown three minute talk from a two-word phrase. Go to the back of the room and face the wall and when you hear the phrase, come out swinging...er, talking. Boom! I put a little flourish on it and started out, “Well, see, “ in an attempt at an informal introduction. “No!” Go back to the wall and begin again. Follow the rules. Oooops. My second phrase was something like “Put all of these things away!” I forgot my beginning phrase but I remember thinking I liked it better than the first. I did okay after my misstep, not phenomenal by anyone’s standard.
What is so cool to me is that I didn't take a single note, and yet remembered this stuff, albeit through a retelling to friends. What's not so great is that our leader Ben Taxy decided to run an advanced class of experienced improvisers, professional actors and theater teachers. What I decided is that a need among these people had built up while Ben was out of town teaching in California. The good news for me is that he said I could join the beginning class when he started it in a couple of months. He liked my attitude and sense of humor. Yay. I want to start now.