Home Sweet Sarah

Improv update

I've been meaning to talk about improv/comedy and where I'm at with all that. It's been knocking around in my brain, but I am still not quite sure "where I am with all that," so I figured maybe if I wrote it down, I would get some clarity.

Last we left off, I was enjoying performing improv in Sacramento. Then we moved to the Chicagoland area and while I was sad to be leaving my home theater, I was excited to start taking improv classes here.

In January, I started taking improv classes at a well-known theater. I took levels 1 and 2 and really enjoyed both my teachers and (most of) my classmates. In May, I took a break from the well-known theater because we were planning a lot of summer travel and I was going to have to miss classes. (You can't miss more than two classes or they won't let you advance to the next level.)

I heard about an improv theater in the suburbs from one of my classmates and decided to check it out. This theater ran a Thursday night drop-in practice (part rehearsal, part class) for a nominal fee each month (basically what would be a coaching fee.) You also had opportunities to perform. I figured, I'll try this over the summer, to keep myself improv-ing while I take a break from the well-known theater. The first night of practice, the owner/coach announced that they would be holding auditions in a few weeks. Serendipity!

A week later (early June), I went to improv camp in the Catskills. It was amazing. One of the best trips of my life, improv or otherwise. On the first day of classes, in my very first class, the instructor (an awesome, intense person) told us not to play (aka: perform improv) with people who didn't play the way we wanted to play. "Easy for you to say," I thought. When you're trying to "make it," you take what you can get and perform with whomever and wherever you can.

[But his words stuck with me and they still stick with me. Probably of everything I learned at camp, that is the one thing that has stuck.]

I came back from improv camp and auditioned (that same day--improv overload!) for the new team at the new theater. I have never been great with patterns--improv talk...the pattern is basically the through-line of a scene or a show that performers keep coming back to. When you're in the audience and you're like, "I hope they bring up XYZ again" and then they do, that's the pattern. It's what makes improv truly funny--so I focused more on going on the journey with my scene-mates and being supportive and calm.

[This was something my level 2 classmates said about me in our final class (we went around telling each person individually what we enjoyed about performing with them). They said they felt taken care of when I was on stage with them and that I never seemed worried, that I was always calm. These were huge compliments to hear because that is how I try to be onstage. Since I am not great at pattern, I know I have to be a good support and also as a personal M.O. professionally, I always try to appear calm.]

A few days later I found out I'd made the team! I honestly was not surprised. But I was also wary of who else would be on the team. I am far from the best improv performer, but there are certain styles of improv ("too much about the game," as my friend Kim would say) that I don't like. Like, "Oh look, now we're in the middle of the jungle! How'd that Holiday Inn get here?" Or, one person during auditions just kept shouting things. Oftentimes, people try to make sure there is no silence in a scene. I like silence in scenes. I can sit silent in a scene and just stew in it. I think you can end up moving a scene forward more if you take a beat instead of just filling the silence with crap.

Rehearsals for the new team started and I was pleased with most of the people on the team, which I took as a good sign that the theater/coach also didn't want to go the "game-y" route. But then on the first night of rehearsal, we were doing a practice show and somehow, "slut" and "whore" became patterns throughout the show. And we couldn't get out from under it, no matter how hard we (mostly I) tried. It wasn't funny slut/whore stuff, either (if funny slut/whore stuff is even a thing, which I think it can be, if done really right, which this was not.) Worst part was that the coach didn't say anything. A far cry from California and the way we did things there, where a coach would tell you in no uncertain terms that we don't make women "sluts" and "whores" on stage.

Long story short-ish, I brought this up the coach, who was responsive. She brought it to the owner, who was very responsive. I continued going to rehearsals, but just didn't feel it. Something had been lost. Or more accurately, trust hadn't ever been gained. And that's what you truly need to have a successful and magical improv team, I think. Lots of trust. Trust that the people on stage have your back, that they're not just out there to make themselves look good, but that they want to make the team shine. After that first rehearsal, any knee-jerk trust I'd gone in with diminished and I couldn't get it back.

As I thought about this team and what, if anything, I was going to do, I kept coming back to what the camp teacher had said. And then it was clear to me. I thought, I really do not want to play with these people. This is not the way I like to play. And my whole, "Easy for you to say" disappeared because I was like, He's right. If this is what I have to do to "make it," I'd rather not. I'd rather quit this team and go off and find some people who play the way I like to play.

And so that's what I did. Except I haven't started taking classes again (a busy summer turned into a busy fall) and I am not entirely sure where I go from here. Part of me thinks the improv magic of my California team may not truly come along again, at least not here. The Midwest is different, comedically, which was surprising to me since so many greats have come out of the Chicago. That being said, I am thinking about giving stand-up a shot, or writing (sketch). I am not sure. But I see exciting things happening to other people, and it reminds me that sitting around and thinking about comedy or even sitting around and writing about comedy are not actually getting out and doing comedy. Everyone who is making things happen is doing the work to get there. There's something inspiring about that, I think, and I hope it'll inspire me enough to get off my ass and do something.

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  1. YOU BLOGGED!!!! Also, this is all wholly fascinating. And I am so proud of and happy for you that you are pursuing this passion, with all its ups and downs. And BLOG ABOUT IT PLEASE because I love to hear about it, and obviously when you are doing Second City I need to know about it.

  2. Lady, you are so brave. Comedy is hard. SO HARD. And to know what you like and how you don’t want to work with people that aren’t up to your standards is so great. I have to speak up every time we do something shitty to someone on the show. I am the annoying feminist in the room, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t make TV that added to the negative voices about women if I could help it, and goddamnit, I’m sticking too it, and I’m so glad you are too. And I can’t wait to hear about your stand up journey if you go that route, or your sketch journey! (Also, did you know Ariana is very serious about comedy? Every time I think about her saying that I die laughing.) Anywhooooo. BYE.

  3. *Sticking TO it. JESUS.

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