Reflections from an Improv Newbie, Week 2

My First Class (aka Week 2)

While attending a party a few months ago populated by SCIT students, a few people suggested that I take an improv class. Everyone raved about them, and I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. A week later, I went to the Lupones’ Saturday night show and laughed through the hour-long performance. The group improvised an entire musical about a grocery store complete with themes, recurring jokes and interesting harmonies. I thought to myself that surely they had some idea of what they would do, which characters they would be or at least had decided who would do scenes together onstage. To my astonishment, the musical was entirely improvised. I decided that night to take SCIT’s Level One course, Foundations of Improv.

I missed the first week of class for a family wedding and was a little nervous coming in the second week. What if everyone had already made friends with each other? What if everyone there already had theater experience? I acted a bit in high school but never in college, and while I love public speaking, improv is something much less planned and to me, much more intimidating than performances I’ve done before.

The class began with stretching and telling a bit about ourselves, and then we moved on to some warm-up games, which served as both ice breakers and lessons in improv. Right from the beginning, Justin, our teacher, told us how important eye contact is because it enables you to be on the same page with your partner when you’re trying to figure out a scene together. I started thinking that even if I never took another session of improv classes after this one, the basic lessons of improv are good life lessons for communicating more effectively with other people.

For me, the most challenging part of the class was an activity called “The Attic,” where one person walks into an attic and finds an object that they interact with in some way so that the audience knows what that object is. The second person finds the first person’s object, then finds a new object, and finally leaves the attic. The process continues so that the last person interacts with all the objects found by other people and then finds her or his own. I’m not in the habit of interacting with invisible objects on a daily basis, and it was much harder to do than I had realized before walking onstage. I went second, and the first person had found some kind of a map or scroll that they unrolled and looked at. It was difficult onstage in front of my peers to think about how I would open a scroll. Should I lay it down on the imaginary table? Should I hold it up in the air and let it unroll itself? I found that I rushed a lot onstage, and the people who did the activity best were those who were able to slow down their actions substantially.

I decided that the next time we did an activity like that, I would be better prepared. The Monday after class I found myself wandering around my house finding invisible dresses and trying them on, brushing my teeth with invisible tooth brushes and generally partaking in activities that would make an outsider question my sanity.

We’ll have to see if my efforts pay off in future weeks.

– Jillian McCarthy

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