Take the note, hold onto the joy

Amy DoSo I survived another show week, just barely. I have been sick for like 2 solid weeks during what has been the most eventful week of my whole year. That’s always the way with this old body of mine.

It was finally Kinkonauts show week! It seems like I have been waiting on this for a lot more than two months, I was excited to see all the shows and even more excited to have an opportunity to perform with my amazing group I practice every week with, STU.

Well besides having to work through the plague at work, due to a lack of sick days, it was also my first official week as a “Manager”. Getting this title meant a lot for me because I feel like it validated the turnaround I have made in the past year. I felt proud of the work I had put into my career and my life outside of work. But here’s what I have learned so far about being a manager, I am doing all the same work I did before but with more meetings, responsibilities and just for a tad bit more money. The thing is I am not quitter, once I am committed to something I follow through. I can be stubbornly persistent and often push myself a little too hard.

On performance day with the Kinkonauts, Wednesday, I had a hectic and feverish (literally, I had a fever and I was sweaty) day at work. After work I felt burned out, sick enough to question if I should do the show. But then that old stubbornly persistent voice screamed in my head, “Buck up princess! This is one of very few times to perform! You’re doing this!” So I popped a few Dayquils and pumped some jams and revved myself up. By the time I got to the theatre, I was buzzing from the cold drugs and the energy around me.

Being on stage was a blur, I don’t remember quite what I did and why I did it, I just did it and I had fun! Immediately after, I felt great! I felt a surge of adrenaline go through me and I wish I could bottle that immediate moment of joy of post improv. Then we headed back and gave notes to each other. It is here where all that joy is sprinkled with judgement, self-doubt and regret. I focused too much on cake, I did not have variety of characters that I brought to scenes and the opening music scene, which I initiated, did not make too much sense. We had done better sets in rehearsals. All the instant joy was deflated when we tore it a part afterwards.

And this is a big issue I am having with improv. When you google search improv quotes you will find words such as: “There are no rules in improv”, “Fail gracefully”, etc. This art form I love so much is supposed to be spontaneous, in the moment, free flowing make-‘em-ups that is beautiful because you don’t have to worry so much about failing. So in essence, it is hard for me to understand the concept of “notes”, especially immediately after that sweet improv high. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you need to be aware of your habits, strengths and weaknesses to be able to grow and move ahead. And I think if each improviser is really honest with themselves, they can point out all the things they need to work on. And in workshops that is the perfect place to address those issues but I don’t really understand the concept of picking up a part something that brought you pure joy moments before. The funny thing is most of the notes I got, I gave to myself.

Anyways, the set was not perfect but it was a chance to get to share, with my few family and friends that came and a bunch of wonderful strangers, what I love doing most.

The week ended with a chest infection diagnoses and I was ordered to bed rest. It was here in these moments of rest that I promised myself to hold onto the joy but listen to the note too and take ownership of what you have created on stage. It is hard thing for me to do, especially being my own worst critic. But without the joy, improv is just more work and I have more than enough of that in my life these days!

I’m not stuck, I’m growing

ChallengeI have been struggling with the transition between improv classes and show rehearsals. I am really honoured and excited to have the opportunity to practice and perform with two supportive and inspiring improv groups in Calgary, the Kinkonauts and Obviously Improv. I had a really great first show week in September and while I was nervous, I think I did well in the shows. But in the last few months in some of my rehearsal I have felt myself clam up and get in my head a lot. The thing is, inside my head I have four years’ worth of rules I have learned in all the classes I have taken and all the cool things I have seen my favourite improvisers doing for the 15 years I have been an avid fan.  I am in my head because improv and comedy is something I really care about.  Not only do I want to try everything, I want to be good at it too and that pressure is freaking me out. Self-doubt has been plaguing me so much these past few weeks so much so that my love  for improv has at times felt more like work than the play that I love it for being. Improv is my happy place and I was scared I was losing touch with that.  So I sought inspiration by talking to my teachers and going to shows and just listening, watching and taking notes. Here is what I learned:

1) LISTEN

I have a big mouth. I talk a lot. I am a wee bit of a control freak. And even when my mouth is shut, I am usually thinking WAY too much. And with all this going on, it is hard to just listen. And when you listen you get handed gifts, offers and something to build on and in improv this can lead to greatness. My coach/teacher/friend, Aaron Ranger, suggested our class watch this video about improv from a very talented improviser from Victoria named Dave Morris. Take a listen!

2) COMMIT

What I love about longform improv in particular is the uninterrupted storytelling you are allowed to play within. You create reality that has no director jumping in to dictate the rules you establish in your own stage world that you created alone with your scene partner. It is dangerous and liberating but if you don’t commit to the reality and character, it can all fall apart. My favourite improvisers are the ones who can jump in positively and go with the flow of any crazy offer that is provided to them. They listen to their partner, contribute to the reality they are creating and commit. And when it works, it is magic. On Halloween I saw a Past Your Bedtime at Loose Moose that featured two of my very favourite improvisers, Covy Holland and Jackie Fries. Individually, these are two improvisers who know how to commit! They fully immerse themselves in their reality and characters and drive scenes in a non-obnoxious way. Together they were magic and what is even better is that they really seem to have so much fun working together. Jackie had this one weird character trait that she kept bringing back where she would lick the back of her hand every time she killed someone. It was so weird and funny and she committed to that quirk in such a way, it just stuck with me all week.

3) LET GO AND HAVE FUN!

Last night I went to another Notorious show and I was once again wrapped up in the high energy experience they consistently deliver. I have been really excited about this week’s STU Rehearsal because PETAAAA PAAAAAAN (Aaron Ranger) was going to be teaching us the Notorious format. The idea of comedy rapping both scares and excites me. At home I use an app and practice while I clean and while learning the ukulele I have been working on rhyming in character. I got to tell you have been having a crapload of fun! Today’s class was the remedy I needed to get out of my head and just remember how much fun improv can be! Today everything was not smooth or perfect in any of our sets but fudgecakeoreos, did we have fun! It was super cool to try something new and experimenting with a format I am such a big fan of. I want to carry that energy with me everywhere I go!

4) CREATE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES

In case you did not notice I am kind of overflowing with my passion and ambition when it comes to improv. But even though I have been doing improv since I was 11 and taking classes for the last four years, I am sort of a newbie to the scene. And while this wonderful community is super supportive, these are people who have put in a ton of hours and have established strong relationships and a sense of comfort on stage that I just don’t have yet. But I am never going to get any of that without stage time. And working with two groups without a permanent place to perform, makes stage time very limited. I was getting frustrated because I want to go experiment with ideas and create but was not finding too many opportunities to do so and then I got a sweet piece of advice from my old teacher Mat Mailandt. Mat told me to create my own opportunities to perform. He said I need to find people who inspire and I like working with and then produce something to be in, instead of waiting around for stage time. So that is what I plan to do and I am so excited about the challenge! The Kinkonauts are really cool about giving people the chance to try out new stuff as openers during their show week and there’s other opportunities to create within this community, so I am so excited to contribute.

5) KEEP CHALLENGING YOURSELF

Mat was kind enough to talk me through my little mini-improv meltdown. He heard me talk about how stuck I have been feeling in practices, how I could not stop thinking about the rules and how I felt like I was just sucking lately. And then he told me something that just put me at ease, “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in this process.” He said the reason it felt hard was because I was being challenged and that was helping me grow. I have spent the past few weeks thinking all these uncomfortable feelings of doubt was me being stuck but what it actually meant was that I was growing! I am trying new things like silent scenes, comedy rapping, improvised singing and being on stage with people I am genuine fans of and it is scaring the poop out of me – but I am doing it! The Notorious show this past week featured a newbie to the crew Mayooonaiiizee, played by Owen Chan. Owen is one of my favourite teachers and performers and when I saw him the week before, he said he was nervous about the Notorious set. This astonished me because I just thought these seasoned improvisers could be just thrown into anything and make it sparkle. But it was super cool to see how well he did and how much fun he had when he said he was that nervous about doing it. It is proof that you never stop growing and challenging yourself no matter how much experience you do or do not have.

And the journey continues…

Thank you to all who have inspired me and taught me valuable lessons that I needed to hear this week. Whether I reached out to you and you listened and shared your sage wisdom or just inspired me by being a talented improviser on stage, thank you for contributing to the lessons I have learned and the journey I am on. ❤ A