Archive for January, 2010


And oh so many of them!

Sometimes I can go over the top in my planning of what “might” happen which can take away from what does happen. I’m so used to being comfortable improvising in the moment that when I have the opportunity to plan, it goes to my head and I can get bogged down in the details.

And when an opportunity to celebrate comes along, invite it in to play. Celebrations can be as simple as dressing up in scarves and dancing or blowing out imaginary candles when there are no real ones in the drawer.

Yesterday was Tu B’Shevat which is the Jewish Arbor Day or New Year for the Trees. I knew I wanted to do something with LP

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Birthday Thoughts

Growing up I thought my birthday was all about me. Of course it was.

Since LP’s birth, I see birthdays a bit differently. LP’s birthday is a celebration of her AND of us becoming a family of three. And as the one who gave birth….it is a bit about me.

So on my 39th birthday, I want to share some memories of my Mom and the gifts she gave me that help me be the mom I want to be…because my birthday is always about her too.

My Mom, who probably never thought about the word improv — was a master improv-a-mama. She encouraged (and enjoyed) imaginative play… our home and yard was a safe place to let my imagination roam and explore. She delighted in being tigers with her kids, having us stomp off barefoot in mud puddles and creating blanket forts galore.

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A Happy Day

There’s nothing quite like a break in the storm.

For the past few weeks LP has been wrestling with a developmental leap — it has been clear in her behavior that she was frustrated a lot more than usual. There’s been a lot more screaming and night-waking and whining.

And yesterday there was a breakthrough of joy and expression and she (and by extension we) had a much more fun day.

Overall her mood was upbeat and what really stood out to me was the new level of creative expression. She was a singing, storying, playing whirlwind. Goofy and delighted…and delightful too.

Most of it was in the moment so is just captured in my memory but here’s a few pics anyway (as a side note, much as I dream of being an all-natural material toys home, a girl loves what she loves and currently what she loves is a Simpsons chest set we recently uncovered in a closet…c’est la vie!)

Here are the Simpsons (from a chess set) on their lego trampoline-bed reading The Mouse & The Buddha:

After that, they needed a snack of kafarla and fatooda (spellings approximate since LP can’t spell yet):

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Looking over my blog, I realize how heavily I rely on improvised verbal storytelling and have neglected getting into action. The reason is because verbal stories have been what seem to delight and inspire LP’s imagination but as I’m working to challenge her to expand her play, it is good to challenge us both into more active storytelling.

Getting started can be easy…while sharing a story (either made up or already known like a fairy tale), find a place to do a little action together. You can flutter like butterflies or wiggle like worms. You can feed each other pretend spoonfuls of the Three Bears’ porridge or clip-clop clip-clop around like the Billy Goats Gruff.

You don’t have to commit to acting out the whole story to introduce action into storytelling… although acting out whole stories is something I look forward to with great anticipation!

This post is a part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom.

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My friend Jenny (improvisor and mom of 2) wrote about telling improv stories with kids over at Improv Notebook. Go check it out!

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One of the traps that I fall into in my storytelling is trying to make it all a neat package with a cohesive beginning, middle and end. Yet if I pay attention to LP during storytelling I find she is much more open-minded about where a story goes. It can be a reflection of (or my best guess) of some of her experience in the world. (Sometimes I think my storytelling job is to help build cohesiveness and other times I think it is simply to reflect.)

So today’s storytelling challenge is to let yourself meander like your kiddo.

See something shiny in your story…go over there and describe it, explore it, find out what it likes to eat for dinner and oh, wait…look over there! It’s a worm in a puddle swimming home. Follow the worm as she wiggle-swims along and then….Hey! Look over there! The worm found an apple to eat and there’s an apple tree with a bird’s nest in it and the nest has three eggs, one blue, one green and one red. The eggs are starting to hatch and out comes a dinosaur, a turtle and a bird. A little girl named LP climbs the tree and look sin the nest and then…..

well and then, see what happens next and next and next.

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Return to Play

Things haven’t been feeling so playful lately at casa de Improv-a-mama. LP’s sleep is a mess and therefore so am I. I know it is a phase (most likely brought on by the combination of being almost three + starting to use the potty + transitioning to a big girl bed) but still, I’ve been feeling off my game in all areas of my life.

So I’ve been trying to remind myself to find some improv structures to add play into our day when it isn’t coming from me in any kind of organic way and when I find myself saying a lot of “no” and wanting to sneak away to read or websurf the second LP’s attention is on anything else. I find the structure so helpful AND it takes a lot of pressure off needing to be creative. So the main structure is find something (anything) to say “yes” to and then play with it.

Today play also served some other aims as well.

On our rainy walk, a beanbag purple cow (named “July the Space Heater”…after the cat at preschool and her favorite object) became the vehicle for play. I would place July in a bush and then start looking around calling “July….LP, where’s July?” And LP would trot over and find her with joy. July got in trees and fences and behind trashcans and then got to try out a tire swing. And (here’s the bonus), LP walked so much more than usual. She’s been wanting to be carried everywhere and I so want her to walk more without me becoming a nag about it. Hurray for July the Space Heater and walking Hide and Seek! (And hopefully the extra exercise will help on the sleep front)

Then at lunch, LP was asking and asking and asking for “parfaits” (a la Fancy Nancy of the book of the same name). We save ice cream for a special dessert for Shabbat evenings so I said no but offered to make almonds into French “almondine” by slicing them. She was totally into them and enjoyed asking for another almondine (I sliced them one at a time at the table). Bonus was getting the extra healthy food in her.

Even finding these little bits of play in our daily routine lightens the mothering load that lack of sleep was making feel quite heavy. Remembering that simple “yes” and then just letting an activity grow from that almost always leads to new discoveries for us.

This post is part of the Moms’ 30 minute blog challenge over at SteadyMom…go on, check out what other moms are blogging about.

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Why Improv in 2010?

It seemed like time to revisit the question I first asked early last year (posted on Feb 2, 2009…for some reason I can’t get it to link directly to it).

And it connects to some posts/discussions I’ve been enjoying on other blogs about individuals pursuing meaningful action in their lives (check out this at SteadyMom… there are others which I’ll add when I’m not under 30 minute deadline!)

As a theater artist, I’ve struggled with keeping the work meaningful. When I was deeply immersed in playwrighting, I looked to Athol Fugard and Vaclav Havel (heck there’s a playwright who became president!) as role models for keeping the work of meaningful. When I decided to write, direct and produce a play for my senior thesis in college, it was inspired by the graffiti on the women’s bathroom walls on campus and performed as a fundraiser for local nonprofits. When I went to work in professional theater, I worked on educational programming that was about social issues such as hate/violence, substance abuse and sexual harassment.

But I did not find my place there.

I wandered in and out of different theater experiences and writing experiences looking for a way to integrate my desire to make a difference in the world with my desire to make a place for myself as an artist.

Then I fell in love with improv.

The experience changed my life. I was so painfully shy that I could not imagine making it through that first class (with the brilliant Rebecca Stockley). And I made it through that class. And the next few years of classes and adventures in experimenting and failing and struggling to become a person who can say “yes” and find out “what comes next.”

And then Rebecca invited me to teach. And I fell in love with teaching. And made that my work for a number of years.

Yet, as much as I loved teaching improv, I did not feel like I had fully found my place.

So I went back to school and studied drama therapy and went into the world integrating the art of improv with mental health practice. It was hard work. It was meaningful work.

Yet, as much as I was inspired (& often exhausted) and moved by the work, I did not find my place there.

So I pulled back and tried a lot of different paths (drama therapy with seniors, corporate training, freelance this and that, documentary film production). I became a mom, struggled with postpartum depression and am (I think at long last) getting back in the practice of trying new paths.

All I know for certain is that improvising is a part of the meaningful work I am going to do.

So why improv? Because…
… the practice of improv creates community
… the practice of improv has taught me to be more brave and take more risks
… the practice of improv creates optimistic habits of mind
… the practice of improv has helped me be more open minded let me know that there are more paths to explore

Today’s post is part of the Moms’ 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom. Stop on by over there, see what other Moms are blogging about and say “Congratulations!” to Jamie on the publication of her book Steady Days. Post time start to finish is 29 minutes…whew!

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My theater company is starting its 8th season…today’s post is to celebrate that!

We’ve been through a lot in eight years.

It started as a small group of improvisors wanting to do more, explore more and build a real theater company based in the art of improvisation.

To create Un-Scripted, we’ve had a lot of meetings. A lot of meetings. In the beginning, we met every week. I think even twice a week at times.

We’ve negotiated, coaxed, fussed, fought, made-up, come to consensus, celebrated, taken each other for granted, made up new rules, reinvented the wheel, come to more consensus over and over again. We’ve even come to consensus a few times about coming to consensus being our decision making model.

We came up with a name everyone liked (that took at least 6 months).

We became an official 501(c)3 nonprofit.

We wrote a mission statement (that took a couple years).

The Un-Scripted Theater Company creates smart, innovative, and entertaining improvised theater that delights our audiences and advances the art and craft of improvisation.

Every year, we come up with a season (which takes between 1 to 6 months).

We performed for 5 people in a space that would seat 30.

We performed for sold out crowds in theaters that sat 60.

We have had all kinds of growing pains and bumps and bruises — interpersonal and organizational.

We’ve encouraged members to quit their day jobs and follow their dreams.

There have been marriages to celebrate and babies to welcome.

There have been losses to grieve.

Some members have moved away.

Some members have just joined.

Even though it is hard, there is something so energizing about working as a group. I have always loved creating as an ensemble. Even though my life as a mama limits my involvement, I’m deeply grateful for the ongoing flexibility of our ensemble.

Happy Birthday Un-Scripted Theater Company! And thank you to everyone who has helped us make it to this age!

This post is part of the Moms 30 Minute Blog Challenge over at SteadyMom.

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My fallback storytelling is to start with what is in front of me. I use details from what I’m looking at or something we did that morning or some concrete event and tell stories from there.

And I’ve realized that is quite useful, it also can be limiting when I only rely on those techniques.

And I’ve also realized that LP has NO PRECONCEPTIONS about poetry and all the delightful things that make something poetic (simile, metaphor, imagery and so on). So all the fear voices in my head that criticize my poetic efforts are now dismissed.

So recently I’m reminding myself to play with those things and tell a story about the trees talking with the stars in the sky and a cloud’s adventure floating overhead and to imagine eating ice cream is like eating a snowdrift.

This also evolved into a game yesterday when LP was cuddled up in my lap after we spent a good bit of time attempting to plant potatoes (various mishaps occurred, it is quite possible they won’t come up). I blew on her and said “Mama is the wind and LP is the tree with lots of leaves” and she giggled. After a few times she started to rock against me and I said “LP is the ocean crashing into Mama as the beach.” And she said “crash, crash” getting more intentional in her movements. After a minute or so, she cuddled in again and said “I’m a bird” and when I said “and I am a nest” she said, “Where’s mama bird?” So I became that instead.

It was sweet and playful and seemed to fill her up more than a cuddle on its own. (This is pretty crucial these days when I am so hungry for her to play more independently).

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