The Most Interesting Person in the World

Archive for July 2010

It all started just before my last family vacation, when I borrowed an improv book to read on the beach (not that I ended up on the beach much–too much sun!). Before then, I believed that improv is something to practice, to watch, and to learn from an instructor, not to sit alone and read about. But I had some spare time, so I thought, I might as well dip into the knowledge of the vast history and read from the creators themselves. So I borrowed Del Close and Charna Halpern‘s Truth in Comedy from my improv troupe’s director.

Near the end of that, I picked up Keith Johnstone‘s Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (that’s right, spelled the Canadian way, because it’s British). This is a book that I knew was amazing, because it was on my reading list in university. Despite being the most useful piece of assigned reading there, it was available for borrow at the library, so I forwent making the purchase in favour of buying the stuffy heavy tomes on the history of classical theatre–a now-useless investment which I mostly donated to my Speech and Drama instructor. I hope one day a student will park their fun and improv-related books in my library.

When I signed up for next week’s Master Improv Retreat, I made a deal with my dad: I would pay the $1000 for room, board, tuition, and transportation, if he covers the cost of the recommended readings. I knew I was getting a great deal, because when ordering, he would go nuts and buy everything that looked good, whereas I would have just stuck to the reading list and maybe even tried to borrow some of them.

It paid off, and he bought me four books. I started with the one written by someone who will be teaching me next week–Michael Gellman’s (and Mary Scrugg’s) Process: An Improviser’s Journey. To my surprise, I read it in 24 hours. Keep in mind, I love reading, like nobody’s business. But I am a sloooow reader. It usually takes me months to go through a pamphlet. So for me to be finished a book in one day is massive. It helps that the book was written as a first-person narrative (à la Stanislavski‘s An Actor Prepares). It was full of good improv exercises, like an active guided meditation that I tried out myself, and then with my next improv class, and on both occasions it was transcendental. The best part was reading about visualizing a beach, while I was visualizing going outside to try it out, until I realized… I was right next to a beach. So I had to visualize something else.

(Side note: I was interspersing this read with a book on health and detox from the spa retreat where I gave an improv workshop the week before. This heightened my awareness of improv’s spiritual and healing attributes.)

Now I am alternating between Anne Libera’s The Second City Almanac of Improvisation, which is full of interviews with improv gurus and tips for exercises, and Improvising Better: A Guide for the Working Improviser by Liz Allen and Jimmy Carrane, which is the best gift I could be given for teaching exercises around themes useful for making better decisions, both in improv scenes, and in life. (Sad that the phrase “working improviser” means “you obviously teach improv, because there’s no money in performing it,” but I digress.)

The next book on my list is Mick Napier’s Improvise.: Scene from the Inside Out. It is such a privilege being inspired by these great minds, and coming back to my workshop every week with a whole new set of ideas. It truly makes every drop-in session a new package of gold!

Post-Script: In researching for this blog entry, I found that the oft-referenced Bible of Improv, written by the literal Mother of Improv (not only a founding woman, but the mother of Paul Sills, who went on to co-found Second City), is available in its entirety online. Without further ado, here is Viola Spolin’s Improvisation for the theater: a handbook of teaching and directing techniques

This year, I saw 8 productions at the Toronto Fringe Festival, and the one that stood out most, as it happens, is the only one I had no personal connection to. Well… except that the character on stage was, essentially, me.

Let me explain. In short, the character on stage marries herself. Now you know why she’s just like me.

Normally in a one-person show, there’s a certain way the performer holds herself, a certain fineness of speech, a fake way of being, that I have come to expect. The heroine of ONEymoon started that way, but then, just before I could brace myself for the typical, she grabbed a mic and started hip-hopping. In her wedding dress. I couldn’t hear everything she was singing, and I’m not normally a fan of hip-hop (or wedding dresses), but it was awesome! The images clashed so well together.

What I like best about this play is how much fun she was having. Here is a woman with a dream: She wants to marry herself–and really, who doesn’t? Not only does she take that dream and think about it, not only could she take herself up some mountain and hold a private ceremony like someone I read about in California, but she buys a dress (or gets sponsored, maybe), and puts together a chance to repeat her ceremony night after night, with an audience full of people who pay money to see it. Brilliant!

Even once I get beyond the concept, the show was well-executed. Full of audience interaction, including getting two “members of the bridal party” up on stage to read their “pre-written” speeches to her. Trained as a dancer, she threw in a little tap dance for our benefit. It’s clear from her physicality (not to mention the program) that she’s had training as a clown, which is a huge benefit to anything, ever. She even speaks some Dutch, with no explanations, no apologies, just because she can.

The biggest thing for me watching was just how much she enjoyed herself. This is obviously someone who loves the idea of getting to wear a wedding dress, and so she has this excuse to wear one every show, and she milks the feeling for all it’s worth. When she talks about marrying herself, she lights up. And at the end, when she throws the bouquet, blessing whoever catches it with the bliss she’s found to be happily commited to herself forever… for the first time at any wedding, I wanted to catch it.

In a few weeks, I am training at a Master Improv Retreat in the Catskills. I know what you’re thinking. My career path is tough. The training I must go through… I know, it’s hard, but someone’s gotta do it.

That being the case, I need to be in Big Indian the morning of Monday, July 19. If you happen to be leaving Toronto on Sunday night headed southwards,  I can be dropped off at a bus station in NYC, Albany, Manhattan, Rochester, Utaca, or anywhere else that can help me get to my final destination.

And, as I intend to return, if you or someone else happens to be heading northward from any of those locations, on Friday, July 23 after 4 pm, or even on Saturday, please let me know.

I am a good car guest. I am willing to help with driving, paying for gas, can bring some healthy treats or buy food along the way (depending on what kind of restaurant you intend to stop at), and generally bringing up the awesome in the vehicle. I may be fun and amusing along the ride; or I may be asleep. Like life itself, that is a mystery. I may even give you random presents and/or bring good road-trip music.

And perhaps best of all: I’m willing to give free improv sessions for the ride(s).