Thursday, November 29, 2012

Head-in-a-Cart Takes an Improv Class: Week #8

Well, it’s over. And it couldn’t end without me disturbing my classmates with one of my monologues.  I arrived to class and found everyone stressing out about our graduation performance on Saturday.  I told them that if someone like me who wasn’t anywhere close to being a performer could do it, they, actors, could do it.  They just looked at me and continued whining.  Someone asked me if I was nervous.  I answered honestly: No.  I added that I had learned that it was best to feel it and not try to suppress it because by the time you have to perform that anxiousness has left your body.

After we warmed up with Zip Zap Zop and the thumper games, we got to work on the show. Some scenes went well but most of them sucked.  But it’s okay. The teacher said we’re at Improv 101 level.  My last thumper was “Jazzzzzzzzzz Hands!”

After the first word suggestion (I forgot what it was) and a couple of scenes, I stepped forward onto the stage with Richie, one of the better improvisers, and he immediately made me Mrs. Johnson, a little old lady he took care of and had drank an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol.  I channeled my grandmother and insulted him, telling him he had given me diarrhea and that now I was constipated.  The rest of the scene was him struggling to sneak my meds into a gluten free apple pie I wouldn’t eat and eventually threw on the floor.  The scene was funny, but we never found the Game.

The second scene I was involved in was problematic because I turned it into a transaction scene.  The monologist talked about having to participate in a parade wearing shoes that didn’t fit.  I started the scene and I offered the customer two pairs of Prada shoes size 3 and size 16.  He was size 10 but the shoe store only sold size 3 and 16.  That was the Game.  Someone stepped in as the manager and when the customer complained, he said, “Yeah, so what’s the problem?”  We couldn’t find or say anything to keep him from leaving so he did, leaving me and the manager to continue the scene.  Transaction scenes are very difficult to maintain.

The second word suggestion we got was “lipstick.”  I gasped and walked on stage automatically.  It was as if someone had pushed me forward.  I couldn’t believe I had just remembered something that happened to me that I had suppressed for a few years at least.  And now here I was in front of all these people and I couldn’t step back.  I had no choice but to tell the story because I couldn’t think of any other story about lipstick.

When I moved back to the U.S. after a stint in Puerto Rico and Mexico, my friend’s sister’s husband offered me a job working for him.  I didn’t know anything about working in a law firm but I said yes.  I struggled a lot on the job but eventually got the hang of it.  Well, sort of.  As much as you can without giving a shit about your job.  A year later one of his associates, a female lawyer with a predilection for very short skirts, threw a holiday party at her house.  My boss’s wife (my friend’s sister) met us at the party.  We didn’t stay very long because it was boring and we got hungry.  We ended up at an Italian restaurant eating delicious food.  My boss had a few drinks.  Since they had taken separate cars, she drove home and my boss and I walked back to the office’s underground parking.  I didn’t have a car back then, so he was going to drive me home. 

We got in the car and suddenly, he put his thumb on my mouth and gently glided it across my lower lip.  I was wearing bright red stick.  At that very moment, I wanted to be dead.  I wanted there to be an earthquake and for the high rise to fall and flatten us.  But it didn’t happen.  I pretended what just had happened didn’t happen.  He started to drive and periodically would squeeze my knee.  I kept on talking and talking, what, I don’t remember, while I pressed myself against the car door.  I figured if I kept on blabbing nonsense nothing else would happen.  When we arrived at my place, I said thank you and ran.  I could never make sense of it. I still can’t.

The only way I could deal with this was to pretend it never happened.  He did too.  Let me say it again.  This is the man who is married to a woman whom I have known since I was 13 years old.  My best friend’s sister.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t awkward at the office.  We were really good at pretending it didn’t happen.  I only told my sister and even forgot about it. Until today.

Throughout the monologue I kept on looking at my teacher and classmate’s faces.  I expected them to have shocked expressions but they didn’t.  They were just engrossed and I could tell they were really looking forward to what I would say next.  When I was finished, I turned around to join my team and I saw their faces.  Bulging eyes and open mouths.  The scenes that followed were all about lipstick and make up.  At the end of the class during note-giving the teacher told me that it was a very courageous monologue, full of material for scenes.  But again, my team failed to use any of it.

I’ll miss having the chance to become someone else once a week.  I had fun doing something that is so different than anything I’ve ever done in the past.  Something so unlike me.  I enjoyed using parts of my body other than my head.  It’s unlikely I will continue because at this stage I really have to focus on moving my filmmaking forward to the next level.  Unless, of course, something miraculously happens on stage on Saturday and I decide I can’t live without performing long form improv. It’s very unlikely.

Lesson #8: Most people aren't used to honest and painful storytelling but I intend to give it to them anyway.

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