05 February 2012

On Improv

Last night I received the following fortune in a fortune cookie:

Better is the enemy of good.

This fortune was appropriate for me for a number of reasons, but because I had my fourth improv class today, I will somehow relate the two in this post. To the two followers of my blog, be warned that, as an exercise, I am writing as quickly as I can while maintaining some kind of logic. My tendency is to spend a very very very long time on a post, but for what?

Improv. Improvisation. I was given the gift of improvisation—in the form of seven classes at iO West in Hollywood—literally, as a gift certificate, and I have gone to four out of five classes (you can miss two). I have learned a lot and realize every week that improv is very, very hard. There are moments in class where I just marvel at the art form, yes, I just called it an art form, and I want you to know why. Why it's an art form, and why I marvel at it. First of all, all you need is yourself and another person. Sure, a few more is good, but you only need two people to make this art form happen. My instructor Levin describes it as us, the improvisers, sharing with the audience part of something that is already going on somewhere in the world. I like to think of what's happening on stage as a parallel universe, and for however many minutes, the audience gets to be a voyeur into it. It reminds me of Belle's mirror in Beauty and the Beast ("Show me the beast!") But there is so much more to it.

What has been most challenging for me is letting go of my ego. I never really understood ego, but I think I'm finally beginning to. People who have interacted with me to some degree might see me as sarcastic, self-deprecating, hopefully funny. All of those things are not helpful in improv. Which is partly why improv is so hard for me. It is not about being funny. It is not about who has the best joke on stage. Rather, believable scenes played out on stage will, if we trust ourselves and our partner(s), be funny, because, as the book we were all given at the beginning of class says, "The truth is funny." Flashes of scenes are running through my mind as I write this. Flashes of scenes that were acted on the black stage of The Loft at iO, by various pairings and combinations of my fellow classmates, one week after the next, scenes that only existed in the flesh in that moment, at, say, 2:17pm on a Sunday afternoon, and never again, except in our memories, to be remembered later among ourselves and our instructors, but probably not even that. But back to my ego. The best way I can describe it is, I'm in a scene with you. We are to act out a scene, or rather, allow a scene to unfold. I might already be, for whatever reason, imagining a scene in which I'm playing a stewardess, and you a passenger. Because I think that is a manageable scene. Somehow I've managed to create an entire scene in a matter of seconds, but we are given a suggestion of "lawnmower" and suddenly the scene I had prepared is not right for "lawnmower." While I'm readjusting my mind to envision a lawnmower in my mind and generate associations with the word, the image, whatever, you have begun the scene (because I'm silently reorganizing my thoughts) and you say, "I know what to get Dad for his birthday!" And BAM—you are my sister or my daughter and our dad or my husband has a birthday coming up, and it could be lawnmower (or not at all), and what do I say now? Sure, I can say, "Great! What is it?" but now I am in this scene and I have to commit to whatever you give me, and man, we are nowhere near the airplane that I was envisioning earlier. I have no idea what you're going to say, but I have to listen very closely so that I respond, instead of exclaiming something fabulous that I thought of earlier, because then, I'm not being fair to you and only trying to make myself look good or inventive or whatever. But in improv, it's not about me, it's about you and me.

Over and over again, in trying to do something better—better than myself from five minutes ago, better than you, better than the group, I overlook doing something good or even doing anything at all.

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