Lately, I’ve been feeling rutty/restless in my improv. I had a run of shows that didn’t feel great, AND they were my last shows for the next few weeks so I had of course wanted them to be amazing. What’s that saying? Expectation goeth before a disappointment?
I had a conversation with Bianca Casusöl a few weeks ago where she said that when you feel that way, it’s right before you’re about to grow. I knew she was right, so when I started feeling this way about a week and a half ago, I tried to keep that foremost in my mind: this dissatisfaction with my own performance meant that I was about to take a leap, to jump up higher on the improv learning spiral.
I started the jump yesterday, but I hope it’s not done yet.
The Improvised Whedon Company is preparing for a show inspired by the movie The Cabin in the Woods. Last night, we were working a scene where Sean Williams and I were two workers in The Facility. The scene went something like this:
Sean: Uh, I’ve got 300 crates of waste here, where do you want me to dump them?
Me: *flipping through pages on imaginary clipboard* Hold on a sec… There’s so much paperwork in this job. *flip flip flip* Uh, looks like those should go to Level 7.
Sean: Level 7? They just sent me down here! It’s always like this. I had to drive through all of these levels, and past all the monsters and the werewolves and through these ghosts just floating around, and I’m really getting tired of it. Well, I guess I’ll go back to Level 7.
Me: Uh, wait - go back a bit. Did you just say there are ghosts just OUT, floating around?
Sean: Yeah, they’re just floating in the hallway.
Me: That isn’t supposed to happen! *goes over to pick up imaginary phone and call someone to fix this*
Now, let me explain why I’m proud of this.
One of the most basic things we learn is to listen to our scene partner, but it’s also one of the easiest things to forget. Obviously with only a year and a half of experience under my belt I’m still working on it, but I’ve seen it be a struggle for improvisers much more experienced than myself. And the key symptom of not listening is failing to latch on to a thing your partner says in the first few lines that is a gift that can be the foundation of your whole scene. A new improviser will sometimes be so eager to get to the AND, they forget the YES.
It’s a classic piece of UCB-style play to be grounded in the real world and then latch on to that first weird thing that pops up. It’s not a super-advanced move, but it’s one that requires sharp attention, clarity, and quick thinking to actually do on stage. In the world of Cabin in the Woods (SPOILER ALERT!), monsters belong in boxes. Ghosts should be carefully contained. Ghosts in a box are mundane; ghosts in the hallways are A PROBLEM. I was immensely pleased with myself for accepting Sean’s offer. Was my move to get on the phone with someone the best thing to do next? I’m not sure - but I’m proud as hell that I recognized that offer and grabbed it and didn’t let go.