You would think at my age, very little would surprise me, especially where my interests are concerned. Granted I have very broad interests and I love trying new things. The thing is, a year ago there was something I had no interest in. None. It was comedy improv. If you’ve seen Whose Line Is It Anyway or Upright Citizens Brigade, then you know what I am talking about. If you don’t know, YouTube has lots of comedy improv videos you can watch.
As I said, a year ago I had no interest. On the other hand, my friend Bob Baker loves improv. He has been doing it for years and even gives classes. I would see pictures of him at improv shows and improv classes, and I was happy for him that he had this outlet and he obviously loved it so much. Still, not for me.
Last summer I went up to St Louis to visit my family and friends and to watch my nephew get married to a wonderful girl. Bob and I had been planning to get together, so he invited me to his improv class. I agreed, but I figured I would watch and then he and I could go out, grab a beer and catch up. But still, I wasn’t interested in improv.
So I go to the class, and I sit in the audience, but Bob was having none of it. He called me up to warm up with the rest of class. I didn’t want to be a pill, so I went up and did the warm-up exercises. Then Bob kept giving me things do. It quickly became obvious to me that I was, in fact, having fun. At some point during the evening, a tumbler in my brain clicked into place, and my previous disinterest was gone, only to be replaced by a newly-found addiction. I went to every class Bob taught while I was there.
I would like to stop a moment here to wax philosophic. Why wasn’t I interested before? What had put me off? When I think about it, improv and me make perfect sense. First, I love being on stage. I am a musician and have been in several bands. I act in community theater. When I worked, I facilitated meetings, gave training sessions, and made presentations. I will take almost any excuse to get on a stage. I am a self-diagnosed adrenaline junkie. I love the thrill of being up in front of people for whatever reason.
Even the idea of improvisation is natural for me. I have done musical improvisation for almost as long as I’ve played piano which is now a long time. Jazz is my natural genre when I play, and Free Jazz is my absolute favorite. When looked at from a certain angle, Free Jazz and comedy improv have a lot in common. They both involve facing an audience with little or no idea of how the performance is going to proceed and depending on others to create something new.
I apologize to my readers who are now cringing at the idea of being on stage, let alone without a script or a piece of music to perform. I know most people are deathly afraid of this scenario. I remember having stage fright years ago. At some point, my love of performing simply overwhelmed whatever fear I had.
So why was I not interested in improv? I don’t really have an answer. Any armchair psychologists reading this are welcome to offer an explanation. I am at a loss.
Back to my story…
Shortly after I got back to Florida, I started looking for an improv class to continue what I started in St Louis. That brought me into the sphere of Mario Busacca and the Fearless Improv Brigade (aka the Fibbers). I started out in Mario’s intermediate class. By the end of the semester, Mario asked me to join the Fibbers as their piano player. This past semester, I ended up spending one night a week with the advanced class/troupe to work on music and then another night with the intermediate group to continue to hone my improv skills.
This makes for a lot of effort being put into an activity that I wasn’t even interested in a year ago. It is funny how a single decision, a single step in an unfamiliar direction can completely transform one’s life. I can’t imagine my life now without improv.
Maybe even more important is how improv has affected other aspects of my life. A big aspect of improv is creating characters usually at the spur of the moment. When I perform a song, either in my voice lesson or at an audition, I sing the song as a specific character. Putting on that character makes the words come alive for me. It allows me to put more than just my voice into performing the song. I don’t know if other people do this, but it works for me. It helps that I have an incredible voice teacher, Caroline Hinton.
One other thing I should mention is that improv has improved my songwriting. There is really only so much I can take from my own life to write songs about. However, if I put on a character, I suddenly have a whole new point of view to write from. I find myself writing songs that I would have never thought of before.
The moral to this story, if there is one, is that you never know where a new direction is going to take you. Looking back on my life, I realize that it was some of the smallest decisions that have had the largest impacts on my life. Also, it was the people I’ve known who have opened doors I never knew existed.