For reasons that we’ll get to in a minute, I decided to attend an improv class at The Public Theatre done by Josh and Matt, two of the guys from ImprovLittle Rock. I called Friday morning to see if I needed to sign up in advance and spoke with Josh, who nicely told me I could just show up and gave me directions. So, I didn’t need to give him my name in advance, although he did point out that “If you tell me your name, then, we’ll know who you are when you get here.” True enough. Anything else I needed to know?
“That’s it. Just show up at three. Come dressed…in clothes, and yeah…”
I had assumed that was a given and wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that he specifically pointed it out. From the way he said it, I don’t think he was expecting that to come out the way it had either. Still…what? Was the class starting now? Was this a pop quiz to see how well I could roll with the punches?
“So, don’t come naked?” I asked. He laughed and confirmed. I was starting to suspect he might be kind of awesome.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when I showed up. Usually when I try new things, they can go sideways pretty fast on me. Everything from dating to job hunting to stopping to pee in Oklahoma has at some time or another gone horribly awry, so sometimes the idea of shaking things up makes my palms sweat. I was pretty stressed out already because I signed up for a writing class, and my first assignment is due tomorrow. In fact, that was one of the reasons that I decided to take the improv workshop in the first place.
I got my first writing assingment, and immediately felt like I was back in school, which was a fantastic and scary thing. Workshops are useful, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel naseous every time it was my turn to shut up and listen to everyone talk about what’s wrong with my writing. So, I obsess over every word. Does that adjective truly capture what I’m trying to convey? Does it give the sentence the sort of quirky fussiness that I think is funny or does it just sound like I couldn’t think of a better noun? Do I even need it at all? What if I took it out? What if I put it back in? In some ways, I think it’s good to think about these things and experiment a bit, but I can easily spend a half hour this way only to come back and have the same conversation the next time I proofread a draft.
Add my editing issues in with the fact that, on the day, Josh’s instructions to wear clothes seemed a little broad. What should I wear? Have you ever studied the contents of your closet wondering if you own any sweaters that seem “spontaneous”? I had a feeling that cable knits were out, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. Plus, what if I can’t think of anything to say? Sure, I obsess when I revise, but it’s better than thinking on my feet, which leads to uneven results at best. By now, I’d made myself completely crazy, and I considered not going and just taking a nap or reading a mystery. But I’d already told several people I was doing it, which forced me to actually follow through. That’s a little trick you’ll see again when I give something up for Lent.
I also suspected that when I got there, I would be better off for having done something that would force me to react without thinking so much and remind me to have fun and laugh more.
Which is exactly what happened. Matt and Josh deserve a large part of the credit for this because they put everyone at ease and played along with us. Josh was also good at giving direction that helped people get out of a rut, like the time my partner and I kept trying to tell stories and somehow became obsessed with bears. No matter where we started off breakfast, a walk, junior prom, whatever the hell we thought of, we always ended up at: Bears!! The game-style format encouraged us to try things out and there was heavy emphasis on the idea that it was okay to screw up, which is something I forget a lot. I found that message comforting during a game where one person tries to subtly clue their partner into performing a specific action, I got frustrated when I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. I knew it involved putting my hands somewhere on my person, and after ruling out my face, hips, and waist, I grabbed my tits. Admittedly, that was a long shot, and as it turns out, she was trying to get me to pat my stomach. Oops!
There were also moments of minor genius. Matt and I came up with the idea for carmel Hot Pockets. Basically it involves your standard Hot Pocket topped with Milk Duds. Now, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s our idea so don’t go trying to steal it. I’ve just written about it on the internet, which as we all know is a place of truth and justice. I guess it’d be okay if you made your own at home, though. You know you want to.
I’m going to get up and do the final polish on my writing assignment in the morning, but now the task seems less daunting. I realize that no matter what, one adjective won’t make or break an essay, and while I care about turning in good work, I am reminded that the reason I want to participate in writing workshops even though they sometimes make my stomach ache is because I want to find out how to make my pieces better.
I’m glad I went, and I’m sure the guys wouldn’t mind me mentioning that they have two shows coming up Saturday, February 7 (check the Arkansas Times’ event calendar for details). Since those shows are being performed by people who know what they’re doing, I’m guessing there are fewer stories about bears and maybe less grabbing of one’s breasts.