You know how sometimes you wake up in the morning and wander around your house and there’s nobody else there and there hasn’t been for a long time and the really quiet feels really loud because your head is full of ideas that are jumbling around against each other really fast like some kind of science-y electron testing experiment instead of actually falling into place in a cohesive, “Let’s get this day started. Step one: Make coffee.” and all you can think to do is put on the music at a higher volume than usual because making coffee is easier when you’ve got something to distract you from all the thoughts that say things to make you think that the way things are really aren’t the way things should be anymore but that whole concept of things being different kinda brings up bad memories and scares you a little bit so you turn the music up louder and sit down with your coffee and a pen and you try to make sense of it all? Yeah, I thought so. Me too. That’s what my morning is like today. And honestly, it’s a little disorienting. But it is also kind of awesome. And I’m pretty dang sure that the reason my head is jumbling around with loud new ideas is because of my Improv class. And it might sound like I’m telling you that taking an improv class makes you crazy, but I’m not. It makes things better. Here’s how.
1. Movement: During my class, there is a lot of dynamic physical activity — since improv doesn’t use props, you’ve got to pay close attention to whether or not the movements you make are sending the message that you’re intending. Also, if you feel like it, you can jump around all you want. Arm waving and gesticulating wildly are also encouraged.
2. Funny noises, silly accents: We do a lot of activities that involve saying funny words or using silly accents to loosen everyone up. When there are 15 people standing in a circle and tossing weird sounds back and forth at each other, it’s really hard to be self-conscious about what you’re doing. Very easy to just get into it instead. As a language teacher, I’m very into making funny sounds on a regular basis.
3. Remove the filter: Feel like swearing like a sailor? Telling someone to cram it? Losing your temper? Go for it. Chances are, an activity will arise where you get to use words that are not socially acceptable and no one will judge you for it. (I never use bad language, though. I’m a teacher. Teachers don’t do inappropriate things, right?)
4. Declarations: Elvis is really pretty! The deck is on fire! Sally has a one track mind! Dandelions are scary! Whatever kind of story is lodged in the back of your head, standing in line to make a declaration will un-stick it and your story will see the light of day.
5. Yes, and: Once you’ve declared, someone will agree with you. Your story gets bigger, and you get to feel like you’re a part of something that creates a life of its own. And did I mention people agree with you? Instead of argue with you, like teenagers sometimes do when they don’t feel like doing their work on any given day?
6. Authenticity: Whatever character you’ve chosen to portray, you’ve got the responsibility to stay there and give an emotional reality that makes sense. Watching that happen is really interesting — someone you’d never think would step a toe out of line can say something totally surprising or racy or bitchtastic, and it’s funny as hell. Makes me wonder about our societal norms and why everyone’s so interested in pretending that they don’t feel anything but a bland, uninspired faux-contentment crossed with a vague dissatisfaction most of the time.
7. Laughter: Happens about every five minutes. About everything. Which is key — more laughing and joking around makes life easier.
8. Mistakes are cool: It’s totally OK to screw up and sound like an idiot and draw a blank and have no fricken clue what to say next beyond, “uuuuuh…” Everybody does it. My instructor puts everyone on the spot equally and doesn’t ever make anyone feel stupid for not knowing what to do next. Good teaching strategies, clear objectives, and a safe creative environment = room to try something you thought you’d never do, screw up, and try again.
9. Creative mojo: I’ve done more writing in the last six weeks than I’ve done in the past six months. This process is breaking down some doors that I didn’t even know were there and while I feel like there’s a really big mountain to climb, I’ve got a creative direction for my writing that feels more solid and worth committing to than ever before. ZMG does that feel good.
10. Community: The BNW has tons of people cruising through the theater and taking classes every week. It’s almost always busy there and the staff and cast must meet a hundred new people every month. Mike (one of the Grand-High-Poobahs) and Bobby (my instructor) have been incredibly nice to me — letting me blog and Facebook stalk them and answering all my questions and encouraging me to get into this as much as I want. They’re friendly. They’re interesting. They have passion for what they do. They’re funny and smart as hell. And darned good looking to boot.
So, yeah. I wish I’d have signed up for this class the minute I moved to Minneapolis 11 years ago. I can’t believe how much fun I’m having.