In early October 2017, I injured my hand. There was a relentless pain, which woke me up that morning. The veins were standing out more than usual, and there were long, reddish marks/bruises around my wrist. Sleeping on that part of my arm wouldn’t have caused such things, because after a couple wrist circles and finger stretches the static picking at my skin would have gone away.
The evening featured an improv show. One of our founders was headed to greener pastures. Some place called Portland, Or. In between the morning and evening, I was headed over, save driving with my one good hand, to the home of my improv cohort, Phil, for a game-filled mid-afternoon.
He suggested I go see a doctor. “I’m not a doctor, but I prescribe that you should probably go see one,” Phil said (maybe, maybe not) after my explanation and showing the issue to him.
Thankfully, there is an urgent care near by,. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t too long. The doctor saw me. After I asked what kind of doctor she was, she said she was a veterinarian and began a mumbled rant to herself as she wrapped my hand. She walked over to her drawer and pulled out a small stuffed duck or rabbit. It had small bells attached to it. She handed it to me.
I asked, “What do I do with this?”
“Rattle it,” she replied and turned toward her desk.
I gripped the toy and began to rattle it. After a minute I inquired about how long I have to do this.
“Like that,” she replied.
I guess that’s what the service you get when your doctor is a 3-year-old.
It’s playtime. Insert the child. Insert the adult. Here are the toys. Now, have at it.
Regardless of the situation, it’s improv. Normally, there wouldn’t be props on the stage, but it’s improv. Regardless of the age of the people in this “scene” or really any moment in life, it’s improv. The words aren’t scripted, and the players have to commit to character. If it’s not a play, a presentation at work, a speech or anything with talking points or a script — it’s improv.
So, yes, the people who say they are intimidated by improv are subconscious liars. I say that jokingly. Our lives have been mostly improvised as far as action, interest and conversation goes. Whether on a stage (at lectern), on a phone call or during a face-to-face conversation, being present is critical.
The thought of being on stage probably terrifies people, but are we not constantly in a spotlight? If it weren’t so, it’d contradict the thoughts of William Shakespeare or Sean O’Casey, whose minds I value.
With the performance stage, there is the spotlight — one giant luminescent blob or string of lighting. Both equally blinding, so audience space appears black. One or two may be entertaining, and the rest of the team in the back line, waiting to support when the opportunities present themselves. The lone improviser doesn’t have to be alone.
In real life there are lights and the sun. The real life liver isn’t alone either.
Improvisers are supposed to play to the top of their knowledge. In the case above, the adult and the child, it’s going to be different. Like any child, they’re mind may be everywhere. They are playing and doing whatever they feel necessary to keep the fun going. So it’s the adult’s responsibility is to take the brunt of the work and compliment the child. If they go elsewhere with what’s going on, follow the lead.
As adult improvisers, we know we have to keep our feet on the ground and heads attached to our necks. We validate each other’s characters and what’s taking place in the scene for the sake of relationship.
We’re supposed to “say yes” to keep the scene moving, but the “yes” is only a guideline. And it doesn’t have to be literally spoken. “Yes, and”-ing is agreeing and going with what another other performer gifts in that moment. A person can say “no,” but that negation has to be acknowledged as characterization and accepted to push the scene along. Otherwise, you’ll see two people engaging in banal arguments. The scene faceplants.
In real life, the same rule applies. People are allowed to disagree and not go with saying “yes” all the time. This is our own raw personality. In this case, to have a coherent and mindful conversation; cue the constructive criticism and being okay with agreeing to disagree.
Participating in play with a child is a good mental check, especially for an improviser. I have my moments where I’m questioning my role(s) on stage. Well, both stages.
In the case above, Phil’s daughter was throwing pitches and I was trying to hit them no matter how wild they were. They weren’t too wild, but not all of my efforts were home runs; however, trying is trying and hits are hits. It’s difficult establishing a flushed out fake relationship with a child and having a scene that makes sense. But that’s OK. It’s alright not being able to make sense of the situation. Allow the child to do their thing, because they’re going to regardless of what you offer.
Funny. That’s how real life (kind of) works.
Life doesn’t make sense even as an adult. But that’s OK. Things may not go well. We cannot make sense of everything. And in the most confusing of times, it’s great to be able to close eyes, take a deep breath and (importantly) laugh it off.
I play with words and invisible objects.
A mind, a pen and a piece paper have the best relationship ever.
"Remember this--if you shut your mouth, you have your choice."
- F. Scott Fitzgerald