Heading into Millennium Place for Little Bear Productions’ eight-week improv acting class, I had very few expectations and even less knowledge about what exactly I’d gotten myself into.
Being a comedy nerd and occasional fan of Drew Carey’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?, I had a vague sense that improv involved little more than a few off-the-cuff acting games and lots of shouting courtesy of Wayne Brady.
Within minutes of the first class, headed by Toronto’s Second City School of Improvisation graduate Ira Pettle, I knew that I could throw all of those preconceived notions out the window.
We were asked to pick a partner and take a seat on the floor before spending the next two minutes — probably the longest of my life — staring into each other’s eyes. Dismiss this exercise if you must, but I can honestly say it was one of the most oddly rewarding experiences I can remember, a compendium of my own self-esteem issues projected onto the face of a complete stranger.
‘Can she see my unibrow?’ I thought. ‘Is my bald spot blinding her?’
This downward spiral of solipsism soon turned to something else entirely; instead of just worrying about my own hang-ups, I started to really think about the person across from me. Stripped of the social norms that govern our day-to-day life, I was free to actually consider my partner, her experience, her problems and her potential, and that exemplifies the golden thread that’s sewn into every improv scene: openness.
In order to maintain an extemporaneous scene that still engages the audience, a performer has to be ready and willing for any and all possibilities. This means not only following your fellow improvisers’ lead, but also having a general sense of what makes them who they are. Your goal is to make them look good, and in turn, they’ll do the same for you.
And on those rare occasions when you manage to create something together that’s genuinely spontaneous and exists only for that brief second, there’s no feeling quite like it. In a day and age where we spend so much time worrying about our immediate future, and even more time disconnected from the people around us thanks to the modern conveniences of technology and “social” media, we’ve forgotten how to appreciate the here-and-now.
Improv, then, should not only be seen as a way to beef up your acting chops or improve your communication skills (it does that too), but a way to shed the strictures of the clock, to forget who you are for a little while and simply exist in-the-moment.
So while these last few weeks probably won’t launch me into my oft-deferred dream of conquering the world of standup comedy, they’ve helped me understand that old, overworked cliché: there’s no time like the present.
Little Bear Productions’ next round of improv classes begin April 2. Courses are available in Whistler and Pemberton. Visit www.littlebearproductions.vpweb.ca for more information or to register.