The Most Interesting Person in the World

Archive for the ‘Ramblings’ Category

It is now two full years since Monday, March 9, 2009, the day of my first weekly Monday-night improv class, and to celebrate, I am plagiarizing from my blog posting one year ago (https://laurenbstein.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/anniversary/). On that day, I decided to look back at my schedule and see what I was up to the year before. Today, I would like to look back and compare, but instead of comparing activities, I will compare goals.

On this day last year, I dreamed:

  • Of moving into my own place, where I can freely host overnight guests, start an improv troupe, host Friday-night dinners, teach improv classes, and throw parties. I do have my own place, and I am doing some of those things, as well as others I hadn’t even thought of yet…
  • I would write a blog entry every day, such as making up stories from a picture, summarising plays, writing 55-word stories, personifying the characters in a math equation, and writing lists. Today, I don’t blog every day, but I sometimes write recipes (http://thelaurentinacookbook.wordpress.com/), and I dream of reviewing restaurants, publishing my own book, and performing more original work at my bi-weekly variety show.
  • I could be financially stable, what with my million-dollar empire teaching improv workshops, drop-in classes, and hosting birthday and office parties. Since then, I have taken on a job as a walking tour guide, and recently got another job as a conversation partner to international students learning English. As for my empire? Still growing, still slowly.
  • I was struggling constantly with religion and religiosity. Nowadays it’s something I still explore, reading about and talking to people about it, but nothing I pressure myself about. And I am so excited for Passover! (Sorry Purim, I know you’re around the corner and at least as much fun… but Passover is so much specialer.)
  • That one day I would travel for a month to New Zealand and to Papua New Guinea. Haven’t been to either place yet, but a shorter stay in Argentina is around the corner, and Janet and I will visit Australia together before we’re 30.

Now it’s your turn. What were your goals this time last year? How do they stand now, and what are your goals for next year?

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A few weeks ago, I had the luxury of attending the Master Improv Retreat in the Catskills. The program is best summarized as Improv Camp for Adults. About 40 people who work, or at least live, in the fields of improv, drama, or teaching either of the above, got together to workshop 10 hours a day, perform every night, and eat delicious food, surrounded by beautiful mountainous greenery… and, in my favourite expression, *geek out*.

I find it so valuable not only because it’s fun, and because I get to be trained by big-name improv people whose names I can’t wait to drop, and because I learn a lot and have the chance to work with really good improvisers… but also, it’s just so incredibly valuable to be in an environment with people who see the value in what we do. It is encouraging. It is inspiring. It made me come home and feel like my life is worth living, my art is worth pursuing, and I don’t have to stumble for words at the next cocktail hour–I will hold my head up high when asked what I do for a living, and reply, “I make up stuff on the spot–it’s a skill that not everybody has, and I teach it. And it makes the world a better place!” Then when they tell me they do something boring like dentisting or doctoring… I will snicker. Because arts are important, but life-and-death emergencies are lame.

It was so inspiring, in fact, that I am signing up to return next week for the Improv Intensive. Anybody else up for that? Anybody up for a road trip with me?

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.

Last weekend I spent some time with someone you wouldn’t think was much of a thinker just by spending time with him, but it turns out he is, and he said some pretty insightful things. He’s single, and one comment he made was, “If anybody’s going to have a bachelor party, it should be me.” After all, now is the perfect time for him to get drunk and look at naked people or whatever. The time when he is engaged and in love (well, hopefully those two will be connected) and about to get married–that is NOT the time to go to a strip club.

Another comment he made was that our society’s obsession with sex isn’t even about sex at all. Now that comment didn’t make sense to me until this weekend, when I attended a bachelorette party at a strip club.

One thing I noticed is that, despite all the hype from the ladies on the bus about seeing… male anatomy, barely any was to be had. The lap dancers quickly removed their pants, did a little dance, and put their pants back on and walked away, all the while keeping their underwear on, or merely tugging at it once in a while. Now it might be the case that a man’s body is inherently not as pretty to look at as a woman’s, but still. This just isn’t fair. If female strippers have to bear all, then men should too, ugly bodies or not.

Another thing is the look of these guys. Imagine walking into a room full of Ken dolls. They have some kind of sheen on their skin. I imagine Frankenfurter would be pleased, but to me it just looks fake. As fake as the smiles plastered onto their faces, faces glazed over as they hide thoughts of Bermuda or sports or men or wherever these men actually are, because it’s certainly not here, with all these groups of women, showing off their bodies as if it were some external accessory.

It must be so hard for strippers and prostitutes to be in relationships. Making love feels like work. I bet they can only dates other strippers and prostitutes. They want someone they can go home to and just cuddle.

Which reminds me of the original point I was making. My friend’s observation about this culture. Now it might be different for a women’s strip club, but the experience I had with the shiny, happy men was that the audience was there more for the novelty of being in a strip club than actually being turned on. They were there to fill a void, or to say they’ve been to a strip club, or, for the majority of these women, because they were at bachelorette parties. And in a group of your friends, it’s very awkward to be turned on. In fact, one woman actually was having a good time, and a friend of hers took photographic evidence of that, which now could very well be on the Internet for all the world to see… so not cool.

So my conclusion: Strip clubs — not the place for sexiness. If you’re feeling a void that you think a strip club can solve, you’re in need of love, my friend. And, if you have love, don’t go to a strip club. Come to an improv class.

Stuff. There’s so much of it. It’s weighing me down.

Without it, I could have probably moved into my own tiny bedroom by now. I would really love to follow Gandhi’s advice and only own enough that could fit into one suitcase. Alas, I am a packrat, and I can’t bear to see perfectly good, no-longer-useful stuff go to waste.

I just saw a video that validated my entire existence. It is the story of stuff, and it can be found on this website.

It comes at a perfect time: Tonight’s improv class is followed by a Free Stuff Swap, in which we skip the Extraction, Production, and Distribution stages to get straight to Consumption (of something someone else no longer uses) and proper disposal (of something you keep around just because you don’t want it to go to waste. Or, at least, that’s why I keep things around.)

Anyway, tonight I plan to bring a box of stuff, including a bag of stuffed animals. So bring your old CDs, DVDs, books, and grunge sweaters, and I’ll see you there!

Okay, I lied. I showed this video to my mom. She totally doesn’t get why I’m so proud of it.

On the plus side, my friends like it.

Check this out and let me know what you think: http://vimeo.com/12426950


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