Its 3:00AM and I’ve woken up yet again from the same recurring dream I have been having since my 5th grade debut in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat…
[Cut to dream]
I am on the stage in a high school production of ‘insert weird dream musical here’. The scene is going great and suddenly, my scene partner goes rogue. Totally off book. What on earth is happening; this isn’t what we’ve been rehearsing for six dream months! I have no idea what my lines are… no idea what’s going to happen next and I just have to sing and dance and pretend like I know what the heck is going on while everyone in my high school watches me flounder in my confused dream misery.
The funny thing about this is I have heard from so many people (especially people who happen to all have been theater nerds at some point) that they have had the same dream! Coincidence? I thought maybe, until one day along came a little discovery called Improvisation.
Musical Improv to be more specific.
For those of you who have never seen an improv show before: the entire thing is made up, on the spot, with an audience suggestion of typically one word or place. Scenes, plays or musicals are then brought to life (and if youre lucky, with the bonus of song and dance!)
One night in my attempt to be a more cultured human, I went to check out a friend’s musical improv show. I watched with enchanted wonder as my friend and his four other buddies made up a musical completely on the spot with the audience suggestion of the title.
“What’s the title of the musical you guys want to see tonight? Something that has never been performed in the history of the world!” The audience gave and the audience received. A twenty-minute epic wonder about soup, a murder, a restaurant and a solved mystery. All sang and choreographed on the spot with the help of wonderful piano player by their side.
After the show I casually (and half kiddingly) mentioned to my friend “You guys are unfreakinbelievable… but you need a girl!” His immediate response was, “Well come to practice on Wednesday and play with us then!” After a few drinks with the rest of the team I had dug myself deep into the hole of having to show up for practice next Wednesday. Yikes. Okay, this was happening.
Wednesday rolled around and as flashbacks of my nightmare crept up on me hours before practice, I freaked, bailed, and immediately regretted it. I missed having the opportunity to make people laugh again on stage and of course I would have the support of these five hilarious comics, but a part of me was also so freaked out by my dream becoming a total reality and completely embarrassing myself in front of possibly 5 or 6 people. Get over yourself, Lori.
I bit the bullet and went to practice the next week. What happened after this turned my world upside down and opened me to a whole new underground world of amazing people in Los Angeles.
After one single practice with Robot Teammate and the Accidental Party (yup thats the whole name of our team!) I performed my first show with them. Keep in mind, I had NEVER done improv before that one practice. But hey, the show went great! Everyone encouraged me to keep with it and suddenly we were on a steady rehearsal of once a week with a show almost twice a month at some new and exciting theater.
After playing with Robot for a few months I decided to take classes at Upright Citizens Brigade and learn more traditional ins and outs of improv. The crazy thing about improvisation is that the rules and guidelines are so applicable to everyday life; it taught me to live my life with more acceptance.
How, you ask? Well, rule number one of improv: “Yes, and…”
In order to progress a scene you must always accept your partners imaginative exploits AND build on top of that. This along with many of the other rules of improv naturally became a practice I applied to my personal life. Accepting new opportunities and saying yes to so many more things that I might not have in the past opened many doors for me.
Another important aspect of improv is simply getting out of your head. Over-thinking and over-analyzing jokes in your mind before getting out on stage can completely throw off your game, especially because listening to the other players is the largest part of improv. Reacting honestly and emotionally committing to what is happening in the scene is what often makes an audience laugh, not telling poop and pee jokes.
Applied to everyday life, this particular rule has gotten me to stop judging myself and over-analyzing everything before I say it. Sometimes an emotional commitment to what’s happening in real time can give you the opportunity to be as honest with yourself and others as possible.
These are just some of the small changes that it has made in my life. As I continue my studies in the art I keep learning new things about myself and how to apply all of these positive guidelines to my existence.
One of my personal favorite improvisers, David Razowsky, once mentioned in an interview that improv shares a very similar concept to Buddhism. The Buddhists believe that we are all connected. People, animals, plants, air, water… we are all part of the circle of life. In improv the performers are the lights, props, characters, set and everything in between that create the circle of life on a black box stage. All of improv’s concepts and ideas will continue to manifest in my subconscious and needless to say, I no longer have any recurring nightmares about forgetting my lines during a high school production of “Cats”.
Lori Gottlieb is a member of the musical improv team Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party, and can be seen at their monthly iO West Main Stage show in Hollywood, CA, and, as long as they prevail, every Monday at the Cherry Crush Cage Match.
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