Climb – Beginning Improv-ing Me

diagramlargerThanks @JonSkulski (and @Chi_Improv_Stud) for sharing this graph with me a couple of years ago. Fortuitous timing.

What conclusions can we draw from this graph? For young improvisors: relax. You may not feel like your scenes are getting better but your poor work is slipping away. That plateau you’re on that frustrates you after class is actually a slope. And while the climb may feel like inches a day, the ground is rising to meet you by several feet a day.

… This graph also predicts that eventually the worst scene line will meet and pass the best scene line. Wow. Your worst scene is better than your best. Think about that for a while.
– Bill Arnett

This post is the first of my sharing and reflecting on the beginnings of my love of improv.

Peeking into the window of improv has led to my opening a door to a home, to a community, to a philosophy.
(- me)

Admittedly, there were times early on when I wondered how (and why) I was becoming addicted to improv and feeling like I was seduced into joined a cult community. I often mention Bill’s graph and his accompanying perspective. I believe it has influenced my continuing to be part of the improv community and to encourage others to join and stay. That plateau/slope that Bill references? With improv, one is always supported by fellow improvisers. Always. It’s a great feeling.

When I Was 47 Years Old

In January 2011, I began taking improv classes with a theater near my home. In September 2012, I started taking Saturday morning improv classes (concurrently) with a different group that taught a different improv style; Jon was in my class.

During a Saturday class break, several of us were talking about our improv experience. I was sitting among improvisers, with the majority in their 20s and 30s. Several classmates had quite a bit of improv experience, while others were just starting out. In fact, Jon (who recently started blogging at Improv for Dumb Idiots) had taken a 5-week summer intensive in Chicago. As he shared his perspective about experience, Jon also mentioned a great write-up by Bill Arnett (who recently founded Chicago Improv Studio) – Analysis and Synthesis – about scene work and experience. (The above graph is included in Bill’s post.)  For me, it was great timing to read about this perspective.

“Another Round of Invitations …”

Short form game. After this picture, there were 3 people left. I was not one of them.
Short form game. After this picture, there were 3 people left. I was not one of them.

I truly had NO IDEA what improv was about when I stepped into my first class on January 31, 2011. I signed up for classes after reading a local newspaper article about a new, nearby theater offering improv classes. The class description included “… learn to think on your feet, build confidence in a safe environment, have fun and laugh …”. And just days before, friends mentioned that I should find something involving public speaking or storytelling. This seemed related. Good price. Nearby. Available time. Signed up.

I started taking improv classes – long form and short form – and performing as part of grad shows with Made Up Theatre (MUT) for my first 1-1/2 years. (Thank you MUT for having imprinted improv upon me!) At about that 1-1/2 year mark, here is an excerpt of an email response I wrote in July 2012.

Thanks for your note. I am definitely interested in improving as much as possible. … I will say – – – I know I have gotten much more out of my head and have been striving to have character depth and variety/breadth , … working on scene work / relationships, and looking to use the stage more, project voice, range of emotions, etc. I also know I need to slow down, practice giving more than taking, and looking toward story / arc. And despite my snark, sarcasm, and pop culture banter with friends (with and without alcohol), I definitely need to bring that shizznit to short form, games, and scenes.

The above excerpt was in response to this below excerpt from an email I received –

Unfortunately, you have not been selected for the first Performance Group session. We want to stress that the choice was extremely difficult to make, since all of the performers in our Sunday groups have immense talent and strengths. Another round of invitations will be sent out … so keep up with your improv, take classes (even outside of MUT), see shows, and you will have another shot to join the Performance Group.

Because I did not know a performance group was an option, when I received the above unexpected email, I was excited to know there would be another opportunity, and I was glad to be encouraged to “keep up with [my] improv …”.

“Even Outside of …”

Thanks Guillermo and James for a fun Level I.
Thanks Level 1 instructors – Guillermo and James – for making Saturday mornings fun!

What? There are other places for improv?

Yup.

Turns out there are several communities. After receiving the “another round” email, I recall a few fellow improvisers quite disappointed and unhappy about not being chosen, quite confused and questioning their capabilities. I focused on the opportunity to give the “even outside of” a try, while also continuing with MUT classes.

As a result, this led me to Saturday morning classes with Endgames Improv; I started their curriculum at Level 1. I met and was welcomed by many others (including Jon) learning, performing, and sharing improv. And that led to my learning about –

– other types of improv,
– improv workshops and festivals,
– applied improvisation,
– improv resources (e.g., books, podcasts, shows, blogs, websites), and

– how to survive functioning at work with 4-5 hours of sleep after a great night of socializing with fellow improvisers.

Back to the Graph

That said, I will be turning 51 years old in October. Much has happened since starting improv. I can certainly say that I very much appreciate the idea of the plateau actually being a slope. I like the idea of the ground rising to meet me several feet a day.

To Jon and Bill I say – this “young improvisor” is relaxing and looking forward to experiencing when my worst scene is better than my best. And while doing so, I am enjoying the process.

If you are an improviser, how did you start out? Why have you continued to pursue improv endeavors? Or perhaps you decided to move , and if so, why have you chosen to do so?

 


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