Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Square One

It never hurts to go back to where you started.

In April, Spite performed at the Chicago Improv Festival with coaching from Nick Johne. Just two weeks later, Exit 16 workshopped with Tim Mason at Second City.

In both, the teachers focused on saying "yes."

Which is the first thing you learn to do as an improviser. The thing that makes collaboration possible. And the thing that attracted me to this art form and the people in it in the first place.

And something I'd almost completely forgotten how to do.

I never thought "yes" was unnecessary...but the number of ways I've discovered over the last 20 years of saying "no" is staggering. From outright conflict to the subtlest of "buts," I can work a "no" like nobody's business.

And until Nick and Tim pointed it out, I hadn't really noticed.

Nick told Spite to "have yes in your bones." But my favorite way he put it was in his charge for us to be "complicit"...to find the mischievousness in our scenes with each other...to get away with things together...to play.

Though I have the summer off from Exit 16, I've been doing a lot of coaching. I'm working with The Trip Fives, who are so very easy because they got used to me directing a dozen years ago when they were young and malleable. And Men of Unfounded Arrogance, even easier because it's a bunch of Exit 16 Exes who are only months, in some cases, beyond the days I wielded actual authority, and in front of whom I can swear freely now, which makes them even more fun.

These troupes give me a shot at redemption: a chance to teach "yes" again, with more focus and discipline. It's interesting to watch them play with it like a new toy—and that tells me I've strayed too far from improv's roots.

I'm also coaching an Improv Thunderdome team. I've known one of its members since he was in high school, coached another in a trio, and barely worked with other two. I'm not their director. I'm not forming or shaping them—I'm nudging. So I'm saying "yes" to what they do as much as I'm pushing them to say "yes" to each other.

Then there's work. Where more often than not the thing I feel in my bones is resistance. Holding my ground, managing expectations, disaster-proofing, waving caution flags. So much of what I think and do is about deflection.

So I want to start another experiment. To say yes. At the very least, to the idea of something. To acknowledge, agree, accept. Wholeheartedly. On stage and off.

In improv, the next part is "and." Which I'll get to. Once "yes" is in my bones.