I stood on a stage in front of a live audience. I wasn’t myself. I was a wizard. Stroking my beard. Near Sea World. Where I was holding two people captive. These were my parents from the previous scene. Another person stood across from me. They were also stroking my beard. They were on a journey. Through time. We were in the distant past. Which was also the distant future. Because we agreed time was cyclical.
The audience buzzed. And then they went quiet. And then they were laughing. They were there with us, wherever there was.
I’m reminded of a line from act 5 of The Tempest. Shakespeare. Wise Gonzalo, at the end of the play, reflects that all the characters were lost “in a poor isle” and “all of us” were “ourselves when no man was his own.”
I like that line as a characterization of theatre. Especially improv theatre. If improv is done well, all of us – audience and performer alike – enter a time and space where, for a brief moment, we aren’t our own. A shared and unscripted moment where we enter different realities as different people. Lost in, as Gonzalo observes in The Tempest, a space of possibility. Who knows what we might find. Sea World. Time is cyclical. The specifics don’t matter. The comedy doesn’t matter. The energy does. A group of people enter into a collective expression of our imagination and, in so doing, change and are changed by what they find.
Improv is very strange.
The weekend was a success. If you measure success by tickets sold. Two full houses. But it was successful in other ways too. Good energy was shared. A group of people gathering to participate in strangeness similar to what I described above. Seems like a good thing after the last year. Almost two years. Isolation is bad.
Vaccinated people without masks. Laughing. Gasping. Groaning. Doing all of those things together. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed standing in front of an audience and contorting my face. Strange expressions of emotion. Missed watching other do the same.
The buzz of opening an improv theatre will die down. There’s work ahead. A show every Friday night. Classes and workshops. Paying rent. Taking care of logistics. Creating an equitable and disciplined context. That’s labor. Lots of labor. Worthwhile work, to be sure, but work all the same.
I continue to be amazed by my ability to fill my schedule. Adulthood is something. One task after another. And I’m no good at setting boundaries. At finding time to, as my good friend Gonzalo puts it, get lost in poor isles.
That’s what I like most about doing improv. Good improv. Getting lost in poor isles. That’s what I like about going for walks in the woods, too. Or going for a run. Playing basketball. Music. Losing myself a little bit. Here’s a more contemporary quote that comes to mind. From wise Jim James. Yim Yames. “It don’t matter what you’re doing, as long as you’re losing your head.” Watch him sing about it here.
Lordy, but it has been a year. I need to lose my head a bit.
My face was naked. And contorted. I gave way to the group. Lost myself in some improv. Lost my head. It was surreal after spending so much time holed up in my basement bunker. A year spent taking my cues from the CDC as opposed to the loudest social media post. Or media pundit.
I’m listening to Jim James as I finish this brief blog. Like Jim, sometimes I get bored. Even though I know I’m blessed. And improv provides me a little of that sweet thrill. Getting out of my head. Losing myself in a poor isle. Finding something unexpected. It takes work to create a context for that kind of thing. Especially at 41. Adulthood. And I’ve got kids. But there’s life in that kind of work. Vitality. I’m 41. Got lots more ahead. And I’d like what comes next to be vital. Remain vital. Be open to change and be changed by what is next.
So yes, improv is strange. But so is life. And a little shared vitality is good thing. So as long as this theatre we’ve opened is creating a context for some vital collectivity, I’d count that as success.