Thursday, November 1, 2012

Well, THAT was easy.

All through the school year, I coach a high school improv troupe. They were a part of my theater's high school league when my theater company dissolved, and I inherited them from the original teacher because the high school drama teacher thought improv was for bars and rehearsals. Their original coach (and the school administration) probably thought I'd stick around for a few years...that was 12 years ago.

I was in my early 30s when I took it on. I was low on the Totem Pole of Responsibility at work and wasn't improvising anywhere, so I put everything I had into running the troupe. Over time, a few things happened:
  1. Aging. Dubya. Tee. EFF?! Other than my enhanced ability to make smart choices in a variety of situations, I feel no different than I did when I started this. But day-um...a DAY, or rowdy kids, or the drive up to Liberty can suck more out of me than I'd imagined possible. Where did this tired thing come from? 
  2. Input. Improv used to be mah life. I took classes, traveled for workshops, whored myself out to any troupe that wanted me. Now my life is my life. Job, volunteering, social life, nights off. It makes me a more well-rounded person, but I'm not constantly getting improv-related inspiration I can feed the children with. 
  3. Time. What did I teach last year? What games do they know? Am I repeating myself? 
So I made some changes: We went from 3-hour rehearsals to 2, then back up to 2 and a half. I ended up with assistant directors, which means the occasional night off. I lightened up. 

All sanity-preserving moves. 

But here's something weird that happened: Every year, my brilliant drama teacher friend Max, who heads one of the most impressive programs in the US, asks me to workshop with kids who want to be in his group. When I played with them this year, I noticed that I was giving them something I didn't give my own kids: an excitement for improv that made me bouncy, perky and hyper-enthusiastic. 

I was giving them new toys. They were digging the toys. I was in full-on aunt mode...I could spoil them, and then leave before things got hard. 

Back in Liberty, I had a hand-picked troupe of crazy-talented, dedicated, smart, charming, funny high school improvisers...and with my own kids, I'd become cranky. Bossy. Bitchy.  

Um. 

Gross. 

So. 

This year, I'm trying to do it differently. I'm taking better notes and spending more time planning rehearsals. I'm listening to the kids...trying to watch what gets them interested and following it wherever it goes. I'm looking for ways to get the assistant directors—both former students—more involved in shaping the troupe. I'm working on shaking off my day before I get to LHS. 

But here's a simple thing: I'm trying to stand up when I teach. As one of our Annoyance teachers taught us (and Exit 1-alum Kay definitely remembered), sitting sucks the energy out of your butt. Just walking around when I teach warmups and games, watch scenes, or give notes keeps me engaged. I feel more like I'm part of what they're doing on stage. 

It's like being on a back-up line: when I'm on my toes, not my heels (thanks, Joe Bill), I'm more ready to jump in. I'm in it. Committed. Ready to play. 

And that's the thing I always remember after rehearsal: This is play. It's recess. It's the thing you push through the hard part to get to. 

As it has been for about 12 years, working with Exit 16 is the fun part.