As many of you are aware, I am not only a huge fan of comedy, but a slightly aspiring comedian/performer as well. I say “slightly” as my current life constraints limit my ability to thoroughly pursue comedy or acting with the time and concentration required to really excel at either. For nearly a year and a half I have had the opportunity to become a part of a group that performs a wide ranging array of material; plays, poetry, short stories and the like. This group is an off shoot of a local theatre’s repertory program (Williams Street Rep) and my introduction came about after spending an evening (okay, 2 hours) at a workshop for improv comedy taught by performers from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB, for short) Company.
As my involvement with the WSR has essentially become this monthly potpourri of “on book” performances, when presented with the opportunity to be a part of their upcoming improv troupe, my heart soared like a teenage boy finding out the girl he secretly pined for was reciprocal with her emotions. Could this finally be the slight opening of the door I had oft wished and yearned for? Would the barriers of distance and time be replaced with proximity and convenience? Oh, happy day!
The first mention of any sort of troupe was discussed in May of 2012 and was really just an idea tossed out into the ether and I assumed would dissipate as soon as it was created. It wasn’t until early 2013 that the topic resurfaced, but this time more fervently. Discussions had taken place, phone calls and emails traded within a tight circle…this was the genesis and I was apart of it.
In July, dates and times and locations were mapped out, then changed. I was shaken slightly, but my desire to do this was stedfast. I told everyone; friends, family, strangers, acquaintances…they all had to know. Why? Because I am a terrible secret keeper. When I am excited, EVERYONE knows. Why do I bother wrapping gifts? I have no clue. Seconds after buying the gifts, I’m practically telling you what I just bought you! As the dates approached, my excitement finally evened out. I mean, you can’t pick up your first date with a raging erection, can you? Maybe you can, but I digress…
After the first evening of the workshop held by Second City‘s Michael Gellman (follow the links, this is my story, not his), I left less than enthused. A boy hoping and excited for a new bike who received socks and underwear. Don’t get me wrong, these were nice socks and underwear, but no matter how I tried to form them into the shape of the bike…it didn’t happen. The evening was more for actors and performers who had some education or experience in an actual theatre or on a true stage, not some schmuck who used to give away jerseys, rings, hockey pucks and other knick knacks while on skates most Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays for 14 years. Terms I had never heard before, spewing from Gellman’s lips with intention and meaning, exercises designed to make you “see” what was around you while you walked around an empty stage with no props, no costumes, no words.
WHERE THE FUCK WAS THE COMEDY!?
I was expecting to be diving into a pool of it from minute one…and none of that shallow end bullshit, either…oh, no. Headfirst. High dive. Deep end. Can’t swim? You’re fucked – type of shit.
What was I doing? “You’re walking through a forest and you look around at trees taller than you’ve ever seen…” Please tell me when I get past this Fantasyland Forest a nun, a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar. They didn’t.
As I said earlier, this was really nice socks and underwear. I learned a lot from each and every exercise, for instance: when I am “building” a table, my hands don’t look like I’m holding a table leg, they look like I’m holding a piece of loose leaf paper. Big difference.
My other disappointment came from the seeming lack of interest in this craft. We had begun the evening with 13 participants, 6 of which were musicians who had to leave midway through “for gigs”, one that seemingly disappeared with the musicians and 6 who remained through the entirety. When the evening was winding down and the discussion of the next night’s “focus” was broached, 50% of the remaining participants informed the rest of us they would not be in attendance, which is exactly what people do when they commit to something…they leave. Just look at the divorce statistics.
“So, who then, would be here tomorrow?” Pianists? New people? The three of us who indicated we would be here? Like dreams in Inception, this reality began crumbling quickly. The kicks were coming rapidly and I forgot what my totem was as I departed. (No pun intended.)
I left crestfallen. My earlier jubilations were beaten into submission and the light at the end of this path was flickering more faintly by the minute. After discussions with several persons I would consider friends and my wife, I relented to return for the second evening.
As I fielded the tweets, posts and calls from friends asking “how did it go?”, I once again found my stomach in knots and my mind racing with hopes and expectations of the last night of the workshop. Some of these were turned into fears and worries as I left the house and headed to class.
The second four hours were markedly different than the first. The pool I expected was there! I found the bike! Really cool paint job, btw. Halfway through, I spoke with one of the actors who was present for day one and she explained that the first day was really “for actors”. Gellman’s “base layer” was that you didn’t need a script, a fully fleshed out story, props, costumes, etc. you needed to be “in the moment” and “paying attention”. Having just worked on several improv games it was coming together. The rest of workshop put the remaining pieces into place and the whole picture made so much more sense.
I would learn a lot about myself in these two days. In one of the exercises, I realized a huge flaw of mine.
The exercise was to create a scene with other people (once with 2 of us, another with 3) with only “1, 2, 3, 4, etc.” up to “50″ as the dialogue. The goal is to show that you don’t need the actual words to convey anything, but rather the intonation, the rhythm, the cadence; they all tell the story just fine even when you are quietly telling someone you “34″ them.
My discovery was that I always…always…went to anger as my emotion when dealing with any scene. I was a neighbor…an angry one. I was a football coach…an angry one. I was an angry child. I was an angry boss. What the hell did I have to be so angry about?
I know, I know…you’re saying “clearly you have an anger management issue, dummy. Go get help.”
I used to.
I used to be a VERY angry person with nearly every aspect of my life. I just was. I know where it came from, too. It’s how I was raised.
“He who yells loudest, gets heard.” It was practically our family motto.
No, what I discovered, and this was another part of the exercises, is that when I’m not concentrating on not being “me”, it just comes out, but only when I was working with other guys in the scenes. When I was working with ladies, I was polite, respectful, gentle, kind.
I know there is some screwed up psycho babble term for this, but I don’t know it. I’m fine with just being able to realize I have a hard time making friends who have penises. I’m happily married to a beautiful wife with two great kids who I couldn’t love more, but yet talking to females just seems easier for me than their testosterone-filled counterparts.
There is a school of thought that because of my marital bliss, the fear and paranoia that usually comes when M’s are talking to F’s is erased because I’m not “trying to get something” and so there’s no pressure to just talk about bubble gum and roast beef.
So, while these new chapters continue to unfold and bloom, I am going to make a more strident effort to be kinder and gentle with all of my unkempt and filthy fellow chronic masterbators. I will encourage male bonding betwixt myself and other “guys”. I will seek out my smile and ask it to be more prevalent in our exploits together. I will also keep you abreast and informed to how this improv thing is going. You’ll hear about the successes and failures and everything in between. I’ll also continue using this experience as a tool to help form myself into a better person, a better husband, a better parent, a better friend.