A white-bearded fisherman was arranging his nets on a pier in the early morning, near an old juggler, who had shared the pier with him for years. He took a moment to watch the juggler throw a ball as high as she could into the air. It was windy, and they both noticed an interesting wobble in the ball that neither had ever seen before.
Its #InternationalWomensDay, so I’m going to talk about what happens when @AdmiralAsthma and I do the same job, since we both direct improvised plays, and we’ve both been an obvious part of the Seattle improv scene for about the same time. This isn’t a “big deal” story, on its own, leading to any big conflict. It’s a very normal, every day sort of story.
There’s nothing more I love about Seattle than seeing August Wilson at the Seattle Rep, and so I was excited to attend The Piano Lesson today. Every time I see a good show there, I’m reminded that there’s so much potential for theater that we improvisers lose when we stop growing as collaborative story tellers.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived in a place. She lived with her mother, who had a funny voice and stirred a pot a lot. One day, her mother told her to be careful in the woods, because if she strayed from a path, a wolf might eat her. Before Red could reply, a wolf burst through the door. He strutted about, waving his funny tail, and telling everyone he was hungry. Suddenly, a woodsman burst in and chopped the wolf in the belly. Grandmother came jumping out of the wolf’s belly, and danced around joyfully. Little Red Riding Hood struggled to get downstage to say something witty but the lights came down and they lived happily ever after.
All this pitting of sex against sex, of quality against quality; all this claiming of superiority and imputing of inferiority belong to the private-school stage of human existence where there are sides, and it is necessary for one side to beat another side. ~Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, 1929
On Saturday, my improv group, NERDProv, performed at GeekGirlCon. We had a really fun show, got a lot of compliments, and all of us felt pretty good about the show. In notes, we realized that the show had been pretty heavy with males playing main characters. And then one of our members forwarded us a strong, well-expressed and fair piece of criticism from an audience member who walked out. It echoed some things we talked about in notes, so it really hit home.
“Nothing is as poor and melancholy as an art that is interested in itself and not its subject.” –Santayana
Ever watched or performed in a vague, low-energy, hesitant, abstract scene that seemed like it might be about something important, if the audience could just keep their eyes open long enough to be sure?
Ever watched an improv showcase, and felt like the earlier classes were a lot more fun to watch than the more experienced students?
Ever ended a show with that feeling that it should have either been funnier or more meaningful, the cast divided, and everyone shrugging and not sure what to do about it?
Unexpected Productions auditioned about seventy people last weekend, and cast six improvisers to join the Seattle Theatresports ensemble. There are far more than six great improvisers in Seattle, and there are always a lot of disappointed people. Many of the people we can’t take are friends, supporters, students, and people we want to see on our stage: either down the road in Theatresports, or in other shows.
I’ve been on the other side of the fence. I was rejected in my first audition for Theatresports, in 2007, after waiting over a year to audition. I was a strong students, and many people told me they thought I had a great chance. It was a pretty big letdown, and while I stuck with it, I remember having a nervous two weeks waiting to hear, and another lousy two weeks after hearing “no”.
Anyway, I like to eavesdrop auditioners’ feedback about the process, as well as what people think about before and after auditions, and I thought I’d talk about some common misconceptions that I don’t think are helpful, now that I’ve seen the other side of the fence a few times. I’m going to talk about our ensemble, but I suspect much of this applies to most professional improv groups: at least those in cities where politics and “who-you-know” hold sway. All of this is my own, personal opinion, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions of my theater.
What follows are a lot of quotes that I pulled from a painting book (Charles Dunn’s Conversations in Paint), plus a couple of extras. They all apply to improv, in one way or another, in my mind, and I’ll probably quote them in future posts.
I’ve had blogs, journals, and random collections of ramblings before, but I wanted to get a fresh start, from where I am in my life today, as an improviser, a writer, an (amateur) artist, and a human being. I’ll mostly discuss improv, which is what I’m most qualified to discuss, but as I believe in blurred boundaries between forms of art, we’ll see where we end up.