Before I started working here, we had this Associate Artistic Director named Sean Daniels. I never met him, but from all reports, he was a nice guy. And he taught an adult improv class for Cal Shakes, which, to me, is very exciting. Because, though, I’ve only done improv once or twice in my life, I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants in everyday situations for as long as I can remember.
“Dad asked YOU to marry HIM when you were only FOURTEEN!”
But Sean Daniels has moved on, so there have been no silly games for Cal Shakes adults to play. Well, we hold other adult acting classes, but none as focused on The Silly as improvisation is. And if you’ve been reading this blog, you must know by now that mama likes The Silly. So imagine my excitement late last week when I was invited to “Not your average Brown Bag — Cal Shakes Sample Improv Extravaganza!” Now, usually, a “brown bag luncheon” is a nice way of saying, “Of course you can eat your lunch. But you have to do it while attending a meeting.” Of course, at a theater company, brown bags can actually be fun–we usually have one on the first day of rehearsals for each show, wherein the entire staff gets to take in presentation by the director and set and costume designers; then they kick us out so the cast can do its first read-through.
While it’s great to be able to see what the director’s vision for the show is at the very beginning, this brown bag involved me pretending to be the 15-year-old daughter of the Artistic Administrator (who is, in fact, about a decade my junior). So there.
The purpose of the meeting–during which, strangely, no actual lunch was actually consumed–was to “audition” a new adult improv teacher for our winter/spring classes, the very accommodating Laura Derry, who has been taking improv classes for 16 years, and teaching them for 14. She’s also an improv musician, and even goes down to the southerlands occasionally, to pitch and pilot improv-based television shows (a prospect which, right this very minute, seems to have a far greater chance of making the cut.) So, even if she doesn’t get the gig, at least we Bullpenners (and Upstairsers) were in good hand for the moment.
Laura started out by teaching us a noise to make when we felt silly–WOOHOO!–and an accompanying hand gesture, should we so desire. We then made some silly noises to get warmed up, and soon used those silly noises to play a game of “catch,” wherein we also caught the noises “thrown” at us along with an “invisible ball. I didn’t quite follow the instructions, instead making up my own noises whenever the ball was tossed to me. WOOHOO!
We then paired off an gave each other invisible gifts. During the first round, the giver would designate what they were giving–for instance, I gave box office manager Robin a litter of tiny puppies–and during the second round, the receiver decided what the gift was. For some reason, Robin and I kept getting presents you can buy at Home Depot, like rope and lumber.
These gifts ended up being quite fitting for the next game: “I Am a Tree.” Emily stood as a tree to start, and then one more person could join them as a related object: Beth was a bush and Tara was a koala. Emily then got to choose which object to take offstage with her; she took Tara, leaving Beth bent over as a bush. And so on. At one point, I ended up being a crumpled-up newspaper on a park bench, quite glad that no one decided to be a sleepy homeless guy.
Once that was done, four of us created random tableaux while teacher Laura narrated a slide show about her vacation in Bermuda; this was my least favorite exercise, since for some reason I really wanted to spell out letters with my arms during each “slide,” “YMCA” style. Once I recognized my tendency in this regard, I started doing things like shoving my hands in my pockets for the scenes. I’m a better improviser verbally, methinks. Other people fared better. For example, in the photo above, Elizabeth acts as Laura’s avatar, looking for adventure in Bermuda, while Robin cheerfully greets her daughter, Emily, just magically returned from a decade lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
Luckily for me, the next exercise featured Robin, Tara, and I sharing a brain and body, as a single guest on a talk show. She’d ask the question, and the three of us would say one word, one at a time, till we’d completed a sentence. Somehow we ended up as “Penelope Cruz, PhD,” an expert on earthworms. Apparently earthworms like to get romantic to heavy metal music. Who knew?
Finally, Daunielle and I played an alphabet game–this is the one I mentioned before, where she played my mother. The first sentence started with “A,” the second, “B,” et cetera. I think that the game opened up with an exchange like this:
Daunielle: “Are you kidding me? You cannot date boys–you’re only 15.”
Me: “But mom! Lorraine’s mom lets her date.”
Daunielle: “Could you give me a better reason?”
Me: “Dad asked YOU to marry HIM when you were only FOURTEEN.”
Daunielle: “Exactly. I should be a perfect example of why fourteen is too young to get married.”
Me: “Fifteen, mom. FIFTEEN over here.
It’s lucky for me that teenagers speak in single words and repeat themselves a lot. When they speak at all.
So, yeah, obviously I’m going to take this class if we end up offering it. And, all in all, this was a fine way to break up the oppressiveness that Mondays–even when the weather is unseasonably warm and and your job is unreasonably fun–can’t help but deliver.