Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A putrid toilet is a beautiful thing

My manager read my first draft of THE MIDDLE AGES over Thanksgiving weekend. I got a short note yesterday saying he wants to talk sometime today and that it’s a nice start, we have more work to do, as I know, and that he still likes the story and my writing. More on that when there’s more on that.

I’m about halfway through my Improv I classes at SAK. As I said before, I was pretty terrified to do it, but I’ll let you in on a little secret:

Deep down, I fully expected to rock at improv. After all, I’m a screenwriter of comedies and comedic dramas. I’m repped by a great manager. Warren Zide is producing a movie I wrote.

I quickly learned, as it turns out, none of that does me much good on the improv stage.

Next, I learned that many of my classmates are fucking brilliant at this stuff.

Soon after which, I learned that a few of said classmates have taken improv classes at the Groundlings, Second City and UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade). A bunch are veteran Theater People and the others are just wonderfully comfortable in their own silly skin.

It didn’t take long to see that I ain’t got nothin’ on these guys. Cool thing is, in improv, nobody cares.

Improv is anti-ego. It’s all about trust – in yourself and in the other players. It’s about making the other players look good. It’s about acceptance and building and committing and getting outside yourself and leaving your inner critic bound and gagged in a dank basement somewhere.

(See some parallels to writing, here?)

After a few weeks of classes, I was getting better but still thinking too much. Still worried about looking stupid. Not committing or trusting enough.

Then, this past Sunday, I was coming down with something but I refused to miss a class. Apparently, being doped-up on cold meds is a helpful tool for quieting inner critics.

I had a great class. I accepted more, I committed more and I trusted more. And then I had an epiphanic moment that I gather lots of improv artists have had.

We were playing a four-person game where Player A improvises a one-person scene, then the instructor calls “freeze” and Player B has to come in and work in with Player A’s stance and turn the scene into something else. Then that scene is frozen and Player C comes in to turn the scene, then they’re frozen for Player D who comes in and turns the scene again. There’s more to it, but that’s the basic set-up.

So, back to my epiphany. Player A, a/k/a Kevin, was “scuba diving.” When our instructor, the cool and funny Charles Frierman, called “freeze,” Kevin was plugging his nose and kind of leaning over, reaching for something.

Waiting in the wings with the other two players, there's me: foggy with cold meds, my mind completely blank (shut up). I had no idea what I was going to do, but I took a leap of faith. I walked out onto that stage, leaned over beside Kevin, plugged my nose like he was doing and THERE IT WAS!

Through my pinched nose, I whined something like, “What kind of husband can’t fix a toilet? This is crap!” And we went on from there 'til Charles froze us.

Was it brilliant and original? Hell, no. But it was there and it got a few laughs and it worked. And most importantly, that feculent toilet knocked down some walls for me that night. And doesn’t that just put a song in your heart?


Blogger Brett said...

I have no response to this.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Chesher Cat said...

"Still worried about looking stupid."

The point of improv is to look stupid.

Did you send your actual first draft to your manager? Or the third first draft.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

Good luck with The Middle Ages, the title is so obvious, but perfect!

I took acting classes a few years back, they were fun. I always loved the exercises we did to get ready for certain scenes.

My big scene (for our final) was from Barefoot in the Park. Fun stuff.

Your class sounds like it kicks ass.

11:51 PM  
Blogger suzbays said...

I think it's cool you're trying the improv thing. I have an acquaintance (sp?) who does sketch comedy and his group is very funny. They work their butts off to be that funny so I can imagine that improve takes even more work, in a different way.

8:55 PM  
Blogger Thomas said...

This highlights the most important rule of comedy.

When in doubt, tell a poop joke.

Never fails.

Glad to see the improv stuff is working for you. That actually scares me more than stand-up.

Good Luck.

10:35 PM  
Blogger oneslackmartian said...


While you were improving your improve, I was actually under the house screwing up my pipes.

Uh, no metaphor there. Bein' literal and all.

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I luv how you are reaching higher and farther to pull out those voices you have in your head. Unlike most writers, your words will get out there and produced and make people laugh, cry or think. But you haven't paused to sit back and revel on yourself you just keep reaching for more. Be greedy. Take more than your fair share. Cecil

11:35 AM  
Blogger Word Imp said...

Reminds me of my own improv days. In New Zealand there are classes called Theatresports which are basically improv. I loved the classes and didn't miss one for anything. The edginess was exactly right for me. I used some of the ideas in my teaching from time to time as well, which was a hit with the classes. Still do some of it with my family too. Enjoy!

3:41 AM  

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