I also danced. I loved ballet, and being on the stage never bothered me. I danced in college as one of those girls wearing the sparkly figure skating outfit with the gold pom-pons, counting and marching during halftime twenty feet in front of the University of Colorado drumline, hoping our beloved Buffs would win (they were actually pretty good back then).
I played sports. Gymnastics. It's not exactly a stage, but if you fuck up, you do it all by yourself in front of a lot of people while wearing a leotard. How's that for scary? I even did it through my teenage years, until I was 19, so I confronted fear on a national level while feeling extremely self-conscious about pretty much everything, but mostly my awkward and un-curvy body.
Then somewhere along the line, I got myself behind the curtain, writing and directing films in school, which was surprisingly comfortable. I loved being able to show up and tell people what do to and not have to worry about how I looked, because no one was going to remember and no one was looking at me anyway. They would only remember what was on the screen after everything was said and done, and most of the time (save for a couple of small films), I was nowhere to be found, except in the stories we could regale one another with afterwards over a few beers. And that, my friends, has been lovely.
And yet, it seems as though the stage has found me again. I have gone a bit of a foray into writing comedy for film and television, as practice, on spec. I do it for fun at this point, and I cross all my fingers and toes, hoping that someday soon I'll be able to do it for money as well. So I work to improve my craft. And part of improving that craft has been improv. I recklessly decided to sign up for a seven week improv class here in San Diego at a place not far from my house. So far, I've had two classes, and while I'm not going to say it's easy, I feel a certain comfort with just making things up. It's so much easier than having to memorize something and then pray you don't forget it at the exact moment you are supposed to show it to the world, which has definitely happened to me more than once.
Until this class, I had no idea what improv was, other than a shortened version of the word improvisation. I had never seen improv, or heard stories from people who do improv. It was something that was vaguely related to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler and there was something called Upright Citizens Brigade and another thing called Second City. And something called Groundlings. But other than that, I've been clueless. But I'm learning. I don't have a choice. They don't mess around up there at Finest City Improv. They get you on the stage and get you out there.
So the other night was my first time on stage, doing improv. If I could think of something to liken it to, it would be for someone to ask you if you knew how to train a Whing-ding-a-saurus, and you looked them straight in the eye and said, "Why yes, I know exactly how to do that." But in the back of your mind, you are thinking: Train a what? Even my dog doesn't listen to me.
But that's something you should know about me. I never back down from a challenge. So I grilled my teacher on what was going to happen, which of course, he can only answer so much. I love rules and knowing there's a plan. And improv doesn't really have a plan. Or rules. So, I show up the other night, and Amy, one of the other instructors, gives us the rundown for the evening. We're going to start out with a game where you have to name things in a category until you either repeat one or can't think of one. Okay, I can do that. I love brain games. Then, little scenes.
Me: How long is a scene?
Them: However long it needs to be.
Me: How will I know it's over?
Them: You'll know.
Hmm. These guidelines are a bit fuzzy. But oh well. I'm going to roll with it anyway. The music starts, and we all go out on the stage. Somehow I'm bringing up the rear, with just one other person behind me. We start the brain game. Cars. I got this. Dictators. Easy. Candy bars. Fine, but I didn't hear one person say Snickers, so I've got a hit against me. On to the next one. Swear words. US Cities. Come on, people, how about a challenge. Beers. Puh-leese. (all those years in bars are finally paying off). Cartoon cats. At least three pop into my head, but it's over before it gets to me. And before I know it, I'm the winner. So far, improv is working out.
On to the scenes. I'm not sure what the hell is going on, so I just watch. But before too long, Amy pulls me out and we are eating fudge. Lots of fudge. And I don't know what I say, I just go with it. Keep going until they say stop. Then another scene. And another. And so on and so on and so on. It just keeps going, rolling through one after the other. And I still feel like I have no idea what's going on, and sometimes I'm just watching as if I'm also in the audience, and other times an idea pops into my head and I jump out there, full force. Thank god I'm not wearing a leotard. And I catch a glimpse of a couple friends who came out, and a couple of guys in my class. And I feel supported, which gives me a boost of confidence. And then it's over, and I'm left to over analyze everything I did or didn't say or do. Which of course, will take days or even weeks to thoroughly pick over.
But the funny thing is, it wasn't uncomfortable. I wasn't all that nervous. I spent most of my energy just trying to figure out what was going on, and trying to keep up. I can't wait to go back.