When I took improv at Webster, the professor began the first lesson with a speech about the noble art of improvisation and somberly announced that we were about to participate in our first exercise. She asked us to stop, take stock of our bodies in space, connect to our fellows, and then abruptly barked, “GO!” The upperclassmen erupted in a flurry of activity: turning cartwheels, making snow angels on the dusty floor, marching in zigzag lines while mumbling their multiplication tables. My friend Brian raced around touching pieces of furniture and bellowing colors. People were behaving like wild animals, holding imaginary conversations, smacking into walls, licking things. Without missing a beat, I ran over to the white table, threw myself across it, and shrieked “MAGENTA!”
We finished the exercise and I was exhausted, happy in the knowledge that I had thrown myself in wholeheartedly and was about to reap the artistic benefits of the lesson. The professor, with tears in her eyes, broke the news: there wasn’t an exercise. Mostly, the upperclassmen just wanted to see what kind of crazy shit they could get you to do. At the time, I thought it was hysterical. You can get actors to do anything! I didn’t even THINK to ask a question: what was the purpose? What exactly was I supposed to accomplish? Was I doing it right? If you ask an actor to re-enact life’s most painful, private moments in front of people: they’ll do it. If you tell an actor to repeat a single line of text for twenty minutes, making each variation slightly different but deathly important, they’ll do it. If you tell them to go into Subway and order their sandwich in polish dialect, “dey veel do dthet!”
Yes! We looked like fools that day. And that was just fine! Because, as my friend Elissa pointed out, we were in an environment where that was safe. Where big mistakes and being wrong were encouraged. My most consistent feedback in school was that I needed to fail MORE. The studio is a special place, free of judgment, and I admit that I would never behave like a wild animal in public (unless someone cast me in The Lion King). There is a time for questions, but post-Webster, I ask fewer of them. I say YES! more, I fear the unknown less. In retrospect, that exercise did have a purpose and I’ll bet the professor knew that too. I learned that looking stupid doesn’t kill you, it’s a joyful experience to throw yourself into something, and I always want to be surrounded by people who make me feel like I’m in a studio: free and bold and safe to fail big, succeed bigger, and laugh while I do it.
Yes: to embrace everything I am, and everything I can do with joyful abandon. Being in an environment where I don’t need all the answers.