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Archive for January, 2010

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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“You guys sing…”

I’ve been noticing and delighting in LP’s evolving storytelling. She’s moved from responding to more and more initiating.

Now instead of “Tell me a story.” she will say “Tell me a story about a space heater who had a cold and needed a cup of tea.”

The same is true for songs…she’s been saying “Sing a song about a Wild Thing named Violin Case who wants her Mommy.”

These requests are so alive and energetic as she moves toward taking on more and more creative control of the stories. I’m reminded how like so many developmental leaps, it is building on the many, many stories I’ve told, ImprovDad has told, books we’ve read, stories we’ve created together ~ some fun, some boring, some logical, some nonsense ~all of these contribute to the magic of now.

Today in the car on the way back from a hike in the Oakland hills, she was calling out to us “You guys sing a song about Sarabbi walking Lulu the dog wearing poodle shoes.” (Sarabbi is her new name for herself)

And so we did. And then another and another. All different, all directed by LP. My favorite car ride as a family to date.

Happy New Year, LP ~ I’m looking forward to all the stories we have ahead of us in 2010.

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