Taking improv classes was a good decision, not only for having reigniting my joy of performance. It’s been challenging mentally and at times emotionally, but it’s certainly forced me into dealing with discomfort that lies beyond my comfort zone. It’s been so rewarding to notice the class collectively adapting to each new lesson, progressing and coming out of their shells. You’d think we were taking… improve classes or something.
Last night’s class was on character and relationships. Given the rapid fire nature of the format, being able to snap instantly into a character is vital. Character encompasses so much. How big is your character? Are they a “straight man” or something more absurdist? A pivotal part of the scene? Or a mechanic to help along the narrative? What is their relationship with the other characters? High or low status? What is the mantra that they hold on their heart? How could we decide all of this in the instant before we entered the scene?
As always, our teacher encouraged us that we knew this already. That a lifetime of stories had taught us that this was instinctive. If a character was a yoga instructor, what did we already know about them? What about an investment banker? There were no wrong answers. Our first thought was usually right and we just needed to follow those threads.
We tried a technique called The Alexander Method. We walked about the room in a neutral fashion. Neutral pace, posture, expression. She gave us instructions that we slowly incorporated. Light on our feet, quick, indirect How did that inform posture? Breath? Emotion? What did our character think about when they woke up in the morning? Then simply turning to a partner and introducing ourselves, our names and mantras. Committing to the choices we’d made. We tried again, this time heavy, direct. We were instructed to lead with a body part. How did it hold tension? What was our mantra this time? Again we introduced ourselves to sometime, as if at a networking event, gave them our mantra. Then break, back to walking around the room. Light, direct. Who were we? How did we relate to others? Then introducing ourselves to the nearest person as if they were an ex we hadn’t seen in some time.
I knew my character was constantly off in their own head, ceaselessly analysing. My yoga teacher ex was trying to catch up while I was mentally only scantly there. Feeling entrenched in character, I realised that this had always been the case, that she’d been looking for something in me I wasn’t interested in providing. My charger was baffled by human interaction. I could sense her frustration in the moment, but felt so in character. I was genuinely confused. Why did she think she was worth my time? Why would she think to divert my attention. I was adroitly dismissive, looking for an excuse to be physically elsewhere too.
Later in the class we sat down and volunteered to do scenes two at a time. I was paired with a woman and told that we were characters on the verge of divorce, but we’d both unintentionally turned up to collect our child from school. She arrived after I did and instantly I knew. She was always like this. Late, unreliable. She was the “fun one”, but it was always on me to pick up the pieces, be the bad guy, sort out appointments, keep the house in order. The scene became very visceral and raw as it all flooded out. Our child arrived, oblivious to the tension. “Do you think I’m a bad mother?” My partner asked. My eyes narrowed and I felt the pettiness come forth. I wanted to be cruel, to stick the knife in. I replied. “What kind of mother do you think you are?” The test of the class made an involuntary noise, like they’d seen a small animal harmed. The teacher cut the scene. I tried too let go of it, but holy shit were my shoulders tense. I was shaking slightly. Too real. After class I took my scene partner aside and checked in with her. She felt the same way. It worked, but did we ever feel it.
Now I can’t wait for next week.