It’s a well known joke that we made on Mon Men a couple episodes past (Ep. 7, Aww Shucky Ducky Now), that there are cliche hobbies one picks up or attempts after a break up. One of them is taking up Improv. (Ironically, have three of the pastimes we listed for that bit under my belt: Improv, writing a novel, and podcasting- rule of three for comedy I guess?)
In one of those cases of “much truth is said in jest,” I was recommended to take up improv by one of my classmates in the Shakespeare acting class I tried last Fall who shared with me that it helped her a lot in the wake of losing her father and confronting her grief. I gave level 1 a try and loved it, so I’ve been in progress with level 2 classes for the past three weeks.
I told friends that I’ve been lucky to be faced with challenge: I don’t think I’m the “best” or “funniest” in the class. This motivates me to develop and evolve my game week by week. While most of my improv class is hilarious, there’s one person there who isn’t, but she may be the most important.
Another improv cliche is that when one finger points, three point back at you- which is to say if you’re saying anything in a scene about someone not on stage, it needs to reveal more about your character you’re playing than the person to which you’re referring. An example: “my mom grounded me last time she caught me sneaking out to dance with you Jenna!” We’re saying that the mom is strict, but we’re also saying that this is the kind of kid who does sneak out and has a crush/relationship with Jenna who might not be the best influence on him.
Given this, it’s fair and makes sense that Improv can so easily be an outlet for someone who might feel they have something pent up they’re trying to get out, and the freedom through improv rather than scripted acting to do so with more freedom and visceral response. One finger points, three point back. In my friend’s case it was grief. In the case of that important member of the class? I’m not sure what it is, but it’s clear there’s something.
Implied in improv is that we’re trying to produce comedic scenes (there is such a thing as dramatic improv, but at the UCB the target is comedy). So it’s a unique challenge that when tasked with drawing scenes from our personal experiences and lives, this one classmate draws on vignettes from a troubled childhood, or defaults to anger and berating scene partners when offered the chance.
This past weekend we were practicing use of confessions as a technique to establish game of a scene. She opened by chastising a roommate for being too messy, and when he confessed that he had a mental illness and was a hoarder, she continued berating him for not being honest about this issue and making her deal with it.
Our teacher interrupted the scene, asking her, “did you not hear the confession? He was being vulnerable about an illness he has, you should respond to that. You should let that evolve the scene by responding to it rather than just continuing to attack him.” She nodded and confirmed she understood, but when the scene resumed? She lay back into verbal assault.
I don’t think she’s dumb, I think given the pattern of her experiences and where she takes things this is another person using art to try to confront her emotions. Does that make her funny? Not really. That’s still important to have though, to know that you have someone acting on visceral, true emotions and experiences. Even if they aren’t funny in and of themselves, even if she isn’t going to be able to be the one to take the scene into the game or make it funny, maybe that’s the challenge the rest of us need to rise to, to show her what compassion is and let the comedy come from our turning to help her with whatever she’s dredging up that has her sad or angry.
One finger points, three point back, and it seems to me the ones pointing back are asking: can you yield and expose comedy in truth because isn’t that how life is anyway? Can you be the compassionate one?