Patrick is down on one knee across from me.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” I jump up and down, giddy at the proposal. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
The audience laughs, another player yells “Freeze!” then taps me out of the scene and creates an entirely new world from our positions.
I’m on stage at the Benevolent Irish Society in Charlottetown performing with my improv class and loving it.
If me-a-year-ago could see me now, she’d be deeply confused:
Me-a-year-ago hated improv.
It wasn’t always that way.
Me-20-years ago was taking classes at the Second City, performing with a troupe at a weekly show, watching shows by more seasoned improvisers on the weekends and even editing a short-lived print newsletter and website about Toronto’s improv scene called Yes And.
Everyone in my social circle did improv. It was how I had met them.
Improv was my life.
And perhaps that was the problem.
New to Toronto, I’d gotten into improv as a way to make friends. It had worked. I had a fun group that I hung out with (including the guy that would become my now ex-husband). There was always a party at someone’s place or a show to go to.
But the more I advanced in my classes, and the more my troupe got out there, the less I felt like I belonged in this world.
Toronto is a competitive city when it comes to the performing arts and improv is no exception.
The more I advanced in my classes, the less I was surrounded by people taking improv for fun or to boost their self-confidence and the more I was surrounded by professionals: people who were using improv as a steppingstone to an actual acting career.
Where my peers and I used to grab a pint after class, now most would rush off to auditions or their gigs as servers.
Furthermore, in my own troupe, I felt like… how do I say this politely…. well… we sucked.
When we competed against other teams at shows like Catch 23 improv, we’d come in last. In our own weekly show, our scenes were hit and miss. We had a “star performer” who I felt blocked all my offers. And the name of our troupe – Beard of Bees – made me cringe every time I heard it.
Many a person’s version of Hell is being forced to watch bad improv nonstop. Too often, I felt like our performances were many a person’s version of Hell.
When I got accepted into journalism school, I dropped out of both the troupe and the Second City’s Conservatory program.
Eventually, I stopped being involved in improv altogether.
So, what was 2022-me doing back at it?
When I moved to Charlottetown, I needed a way to meet new people. I wanted to co-create with others and hot on the heels of an emotional breakdown, I desperately needed to laugh.
So, when I saw an ad for a local improv class, I thought, “It helped you find friends when you were new to Toronto. Maybe it will help you find friends here. Try it for one night and if you hate it, you don’t have to come back.”
So I tried it for one night and I hated it.
But I liked the people and the teacher so I thought, “Try it for a second night and if you hate it, you don’t have to come back.”
I tried it again and I hated it a little less; so, I returned for a third class, then a fourth, a fifth, and a sixth, followed by a new round of classes after a summer break.
And somewhere in all those classes something shifted: I started to like improv again.
And then something even weirder happened.
I started to love it; and by love it, I mean love it in a way I never loved it when I did it 20 years ago. Doing a scene no longer felt like something I had to prove myself with.
I stopped mentally obsessing over how much I hate miming (and don’t even get me started on sound effects).
I stopped caring about looking stupid or getting laughs.
I stopped judging my fellow improvisors for “hogging the spotlight” or “blocking” and started supporting them when they did.
I stopped letting my ego get in the way.
I started to just let myself be in the moment and have fun with it, regardless of what happened.
If it sucked, it sucked and so what?
Improv doesn’t exist solely as a way to get cast on Second City’s mainstage or to make it to that holy grail for most improvisors: Saturday Night Live (despite the fact that is sometimes seemed like this back in Toronto).
The point of doing improv isn’t even to be good.
The point is to just be… a ballet dancer, a monkey, a butcher named Chuck, or whatever else comes out of the Universe
And the irony is when you just be in improv, you get better because improv is all about the moment.
Unlike so much else in life, it’s not about controlling the narrative.
It’s about the opposite.
Improv is about trusting the narrative even if it’s not what you had planned. (And holy shit, is that a lesson for life.)
It’s about knowing that whatever happens is a gift and the best you can do is support other people.
It’s not about competing and being better than. It’s about simply being as you are, without judgment.
Me-six-months-ago came to PEI for that exact reason.
Slowly, I’ve been doing it.
I’ve been letting go:
- of the need to control 100% how things will work out
- of outdated stories about not belonging and not being good enough
- of holding onto anticipated outcomes and feeling like a failure when things don’t happen exactly as planned.
I’ve been practicing living in the moment and saying “Yes, and” to everything.
And in doing so, rather than feel self-conscious and clunky, life has been headed in some unexpected but amazingly enjoyable directions.
Improv, like life, has been showing me there is another way.
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