Adventures in Improv

This past weekend, I totally improv-d myself out. It’s kind of like whoring yourself out, only doing improv requires a lot more intellectual energy.

Washington Improv Theater (WIT) held open auditions for two of its troupes, Jinx and Season Six. Now, I readily admit that I’m not quite ready to play with the big boys just yet—believe it or not, I believe in honing my craft—but my teacher Dan strongly encouraged us to do it for the experience, regardless of the outcome.

And so I did. 

On Saturday, I went to the audition with absolutely no expectations. I had a fantastic time and met some really awesome people. Because I fancy myself a good improv student, I made it a point to not think about what I was going to do and to instead just go with whatever came out of my mouth and commit to what I brought to the scene. (Dan would always say that anything we do or say in a scene becomes part of the universe we’re creating, and so if that means we dig up grandma’s remains every two weeks and put her in a different spot in the backyard, by golly, that’s what we do!)

And the result: I had a tremendous amount of fun. There were some pretty amazing scenes involving everything from Diet Coke to voyeuristic obsessions related to toothpaste. 

And lo and behold, I got a callback, which was admittedly exhilarating, because it validated my hunch that this is something that I have at least some aptitude in. (Isn’t it amazing to discover something that you’re good at, instead of always getting disappointed by what you suck at?)

And so on Sunday, I excitedly went back to the theatre for the callback audition. As soon as I stepped in, though, I realized very quickly that the other people there were waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more advanced than I was. Holy cow. I felt a little out of my league.

And so I got nervous and started to actively think about what I wanted to do. Another rule of improv for the uninitiated: the more you think about the scene before you do it, the more it’s going to suck. (This is primarily because you’re spending your precious few seconds in the scene trying to come up with a witty comment or comeback instead of listening to your partner and responding as honestly and naturally as possible.) And just for good measure, I even broke a couple of fundamental improv rules, at one point even just blurting out a human body part that shall remain unnamed. I didn’t commit to a character and literally spent a good amount of time getting drowned by my scene partners because I didn’t know who I was.

So, needless to say, the audition didn’t go as well as I had hoped.

But, thankfully later that evening, I redeemed myself during our student showcase performance. As part of the WIT curriculum, students at the end of each “semester” get to perform for friends and family. And so I performed with my classmates once again—except this time, we were all doing it as friends. And that made it much, much easier. 

All in all a fantastic weekend of improv. I’m glad I stepped out on a limb and put myself out there for public enjoyment and/or ridicule. And while I’m pretty sure I won’t advance to the next stage in the audition process (at least not yet), I’m happy that: one, I got a callback, and two, that I was able to recognize strengths and identify specific areas for improvement. And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?

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