I needed a good scare. Something that felt like a roller coaster, but without the height. Entering my fiftieth year, I was contemplating my bucket list and my singledom. A wise friend had told me that “Doing something interesting will make you an interesting person,” so I decided that a ten-week stint in an Improv class would be interesting.
Improv for Adults is very much like riding a roller coast. Up, up, and up I go, nervously looking over the side before careening head-first into the unknown, inwardly screaming all the way. But for those who like carnival rides, you already know that part of the thrill is being scared silly.
My classmates are made up of both men and women of every age and from every walk of life. Engineer-turned-social worker, software salesman, Bay Street banker, and even a woman who uses her few allotted hours of respite care from her ailing mother, to de-stress once a week in this class. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure: it’s a couple of hours a week where the grown-ups travel to Neverland to cease “adulting” for the duration of the class.
Take Ed, for example. He’s a computer software salesman with a melodious Irish accent. We were partnered together to explore spontaneous dialogue. He was handed a random script that he was instructed to follow, regardless of what came out of my mouth. I, on the other hand, was not given a script because I was to respond to what he said. It turns out his character was coming out of the closet and likening the whole experience to discovering that he liked spinach after all. My character, I had determined before the closet door had even opened, was his wife and the mother of his children, so this revelation of his sexuality was problematic, to say the least.
“And just what am I to tell our children?” my character bellowed. “Hey, guess what kids? Your dad has decided that after all these years, that he actually LOVES spinach—and by the way, he’s gay too!”
According to the script that Ed was holding, I was one of his character’s friends, certainly not his wife, but Ed was able to adapt, changing the intonation of his voice as he read his lines to make the scene work. We had the class in stitches, so for me, it was a win.
Improve is truly a stage for life. There is a psychology to it. Reading people and settings, quickly adapting to change without faltering, and honing your listening skills; it should be mandatory before entering the workforce.
Another benefit of this class, and certainly one that I was not intentionally seeking out, is a loss of control. No, not of bodily functions (although I may have peed just a little when Irish Eddie was thrown to the ground by the Peruvian hottie; she turned everything into Fifty Shades of Nasty)
But I digress. The lack of control of which I speak is the inability to control what happens next. We are cautioned almost weekly by our feisty five-foot-nothing acting instructor not to sabotage our fellow actors. When a scene isn’t going where you had envisioned it, you’re not to engage in a tug-of-war with our partner or team, but to just go with it; see where it ends up. This is a metaphor for life. How many times do we find ourselves in a season of change where things aren’t going quite the way we expected, but we are powerless to change the circumstance, especially when it hinges on the perspective or beliefs of another person? Sometimes simply yielding allows for great things to happen, both on and off the stage; you just have to be willing to let go of the reins.
While most of what I enjoy about this class is the camaraderie and sheer joy of being silly, learning to get out of my head and to not over-think things have been beautiful by-products. Nervous as I was at the prospect of getting up in front of a group of strangers, pretending to be someone I’m not, there’s been an uncovering of giddy excitement and exhilaration hidden deep within my funny bone. A spontaneity and sense of timing that I didn’t know existed are emerging. I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable, to be my own truest self, and I’m discovering that I kind of like this funny lady.
Shakespeare probably said it best;
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts….”