Today we hear from Robin, an improviser who has been playing with Swipe Right since late 2015, loves taking as many classes as possible, and found improv useful for tackling grief…
In 2013 I watched a comedy pilot called The Cariad Show, by Cariad Lloyd. It was (and is) so funny to me in a way that so many things weren’t, so I thought: I must see this person in something else. Oh, she’s in Austentatious – what’s that? Improvised. Cool, sure, why not.
So I went to a show above The Wheatsheaf pub, and it was like an explosion in a fireworks factory. The positivity was intoxicating. Everyone – cast and audience – seemed so pleased to be there and to actually like each other, and you just wanted to be a part of it. It was so different to some stand-up gigs I’d been to, which had this weird, skulking, ‘them and us’ vibe, like drunk sports fans looking for things to argue about. It was also incredibly funny, full of ideas that bounced off the stage and into your head; I still vividly remember Paul Foxcroft’s author character, Joshua Tree, explaining that there is ‘too much now’.
Improv got me by the heart and the head. Here was the entire process of scripting, staging and performing being done at once – all those plates were spinning together, but the people doing it enjoyed the peril of knowing they could all come crashing down at any moment. They lived in that taut, hyper-connected limbo; to an outsider, it actually seemed to be what made it worthwhile.
I went to a lot of gigs after that. I read Keith Johnstone’s Impro, which put on paper things I’d halfway thought but hadn’t had the courage of my convictions to believe, and genuinely shifted the way I looked at things around me. (Improv has a tendency to sound like a cult with levels and secrets (see Bojack Horseman season 2, episode 10) and, as a result, I don’t want to go overboard with the epiphanies here, so let’s clarify: objective truth in any social situation is impossible without telepathy. All we’ve got is perspective, all we can do is build it. Improv is great for that. There’s a whole other blog in this about the relative value of assumptions in life and on stage, but let’s not go there now.) Then I started taking classes, first with The Spontaneity Shop then at C3, Hoopla, The Nursery, This Is Information and anywhere else I could manage. I remember cheerily taking a Monkey Toast character class on three hours sleep simply because I had to do more of this stuff, and was under the mistaken assumption that it was something you could ‘complete’. By this point I had become rather evangelical and tedious about improv, especially to people who had no interest in what I was saying.
About two courses in, my mum died. I remember thinking it would be better to carry on as normal. Whether or not that was ‘correct’ I don’t know, but I’m of the opinion that grieving people should largely do as they feel best, and went to class that night. The emotions were bubbling just under my skin. It was like a hot river and you could bail the top out and into scenes, if you were careful. I’d not had a space like that to process emotion outside myself before and feeling, hopefully without judgement, the path of that process inside yourself – be it of ideas or emotions – is what continues to fascinate me most about the whole shebang.
I’m not equating improv with therapy, but it’s brilliant as a tool for listening to your honest responses and learning what is useful on stage and in life. And whatever other great stuff is around it – characters, formats, tech – the universal accessibility of unguarded emotional expression and reaction is what gives improv its power on stage, at least to me. It’s that moment of thinking, both on stage and in the seats, how would I react to that? That sudden intake of breath. Dust particles swirling in the stage lights. Will they or won’t they? You’re all caught in that moment together, dangling on the precipice. And you all fall at the same time.
There’s a beauty in that I’ll never quite get over.
(Photo Credit – Bob Stafford)