Friday, March 11, 2011

What I learned in my time away...

and how I learned it.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts on Improvisation, I took a good long sabbatical from improvisation. There's a little 'why' there, and a lot of what happened in the duration.

Where was I at the time? I had been the little-seen player in the ComedySportz team in Santa Barbara. I think the team probably had no idea what to do with me and I don't believe I was ready to learn what I needed to learn from them. I left them when I left Santa Barbara to head to the Pacific Conservatory for Performing Arts in Santa Maria. I was asked to leave that group at the end of my first semester there. I was beginning to feel like there were things I needed to learn that I wasn't going to learn there. I remember Paul, the president of PCPA saying to me "this isn't stand-up." So I moved back home to Los Angeles and in a little while I took Judy Carter's class on stand-up.

Some folks question the notion of a class on stand-up comedy. After having taken Judy's class I can say that it's a craft that can work in the classroom. For me it wasn't until the final practice before the final class that any material came together for me. It was partially just the pressure and also something that my practice partner noticed: I wasn't making eye contact with her.

I'll say that was a revelation! No one had mentioned that tid-bit to me before. In college folks often assumed that I was pretty confident. Perhaps they confused the idiosyncratic outfits I wore with confidence. Some folks perhaps believed that I was too cool for them. Looking back on it now, I can imagine that I was more alienated than cool. Ah, perspective.

Anyway, that practice partner taught me to look her in the eye. She asked me to look directly into her right pupil. Such a huge lesson. Good looking girl too, but I don't think I ever saw her again after that showcase.

Shortly after that I did an improv class at the Ice House in Pasadena. We had one showcase, but fell apart after that. I can't say I really had discovered what it meant to be a team player at that point. I was still doing a bit of stand-up, but finding that world to be really bitter and hard. There were a few cool folks who stick around in my memory. Some good gigs, but mostly I remember folks being jealous of other folks and not having a real support system. I started my sabbatical some time after my last stand-up gig. Was doing some work at the Public Access studio in West Hollywood, but time marched on.

I didn't recognize it as a sabbatical when it began. I had moved on.

The next thing to fill my life was Lindy Hop. That's swing dancing, if you've never heard of it. I discovered the dance some time between September 4th, 1997 and now. It took many of the things I was needing to learn and put them into sharp focus. Also, I had been a dancer in my youth and really needed an outlet for my physical creativity.

Here's an overview of Lindy Hop: it's an American dance born in the jazz halls and ballrooms of the early 20th century. It's loose and free-form, but works with a structure. It requires an understanding of one's own body and playfulness with one's partner is more often than not rewarded. If you're curious what the dance looks like, you might click on the "Lindy Hop" tab to your right. There are a few clips there that will give you an idea.

It seems to me now that Lindy Hop has been one of the most important and fulfilling elements of my life. In Lindy Hop, I was able to put the phrase "Yes And" to work literally in a way I wasn't ready to do in my past on stage. That is to say that after years of dancing with folks I understood what it was to be in the moment in a substantial way.

In fact I remember in the late 1990s watching a class that some San Francisco dancers had taught on the subject of improvisation and feeling that the classes were really shallow. I saw a very simple mirror exercise and I didn't see the teachers really even taking that exercise to its fruition. It was after that when I developed the class I came to call "Adventures in the Groove." That class is central in the way I view the Lindy Hop and reflects many of the ways I feel about taking creative chances in the world.

Here are some things I learned from Lindy Hop that have influenced my Improvisation:
1) There is someone with you, whether you remember it or not.
2) It's better to play with the person with whom your are dancing than some other person about whom you may be wishing.
3) When someone does something you don't expect, it's way more fun to accept it and perhaps augment it than it is to put up defenses.
4) What's the point of fear? It's not like there's a bear on the dance floor.
5) Listening is more than hearing. Using my senses is an important way to tune in to the world around me, not to mention the person with whom I'm dancing.
6) Everyone was a beginner at some point.
7) There's always more work to do.

These are just several notions that come to mind after more than a decade of dance.

Anyway, as I mentioned in other posts, I've returned to improvisation pretty solidly. I finally have been admitted to the Monkey Butler level 2 class and am working on my long-form improv chops there. I'm also in the teaching track with Bill Chott and The Improv Trick. Next week I'm hoping to audition for The X-Ecution, which is essentially a contest. I see it more as a creative pressure cooker and the notion of joining really excites me.

In dance, I teach the LindyGroove Technique Class. My partner Fancy and I will be flying down to Tucson in two weeks to teach a workshop. Excitement abounds.

More recently I've also begun studying yoga. The way I see it, these things all work on the same principles. It's all about play. Just starting on this track now and it has been greatly enriching.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Del Close!

Del Close is one of the key improvisors in history. It looks like it's his birthday, so here's a clip of him describing one of his inventions, Harold.

Tangential, but I like this video too.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Bouncing through my skull

Merry Go Round, by the Brady Bunch.