Why improv will be the death of me

When you have 24 minutes to kill, watch this video. My instructor's in there!

No sooner did I hit send on the improv tournament submission form than the heartburn started. It had asked for the group name (Dirty Harriet). It had asked for a contact person (me). And then it asked for combined years of performance experience. Which is zero.

Shame the form said that classes don't count as experience, because then at least I could put a combined .15 years. I just started classes at Washington Improv Theater (WIT) a few weeks ago, and in that time I have amassed a whopping 7.5 hours' worth of lessons learned. These include:

Listening requiring shutting up. Improv's basic rules are also the basic rules of human communication. Shut your mouth. Open your ears. Pay attention. Observe. Accept others' choices. Support those choices. React. Be confident. And did I mention listening? Are you listening right now? HEY. EYES HERE.

Check your coat and ego at the door. It appears that some bit of my gray matter believes 10 years of doing school or community theater makes me an improv expert, and that I am God's comedic gift to this ragtag class of Washingtonians who are simply trying to learn something new, meet people, or get over their fear of public speaking. This bit of gray matter is persistent and dangerous. It leads me to believe I am perfect and thus have no room to learn.

I am a Type A's Type A. I fight every bossy bone in my body during this class. "Speak up!" the big sister voice yells at the other classmates. "Listen to the teacher! Follow the rules! Wait your turn! Dammit, I paid a lot of money for this class and YOU ARE KILLING ME, PEOPLE!" Somewhere along the way my brain forgot that we're here to have fun! and make shit up! -- two highly unregulable activities that it's also forgetting to participate in.

"And what exactly do you mean by 'outrageous' ... ?" Anyone who knows me knows I am the opposite of outrageous. I follow rules. I avoid extremes. I don't even wear prints. But this class requires me to be as outrageous as I can possibly be. It asks me to stretch my body, test my range, and bury my insecurities and sense of propriety for the sake of storytelling. At times I would rather dive from a plane face-first into a sharpened fork. But then again, that's pretty outrageous, so maybe I'm picking it up.

Not surprisingly, many of these lessons give me heartburn too.

So why exactly did I and two classmates decide to enter a tournament in which we are likely to be eliminated quickly and with little fanfare? Because 2012 is the year I just do it. Enough excuses. Enough self-imposed barriers. Enough resistance and pride and brain noise. I'm here to have fun and make shit up. Even if it kills me.

Which it might.

Prayer #198: Yes, And ...

Every time I slam my door, plug my ears, and stick out my tongue at you, I lay down a brick. Over time the bricks build a wall. And eventually I'm standing behind that wall, celebrating to the neighbors that I've beat you at your own game yet straining to see you once they turn their heads.

The thing is, I also lay down a brick every time I shut my mouth, stop my complaints, and stick out my neck for you. But over time these bricks build many walls. Those walls build a home. And eventually I'm standing at an open door where I can walk in any time and find you sitting at the table, warm and cozy, ready to laugh.

Saying yes is the cornerstone. Saying yes is the blueprint. Saying yes is the start.