Tag Archives: improv

The Inspiration of New Experience

It’s no secret that improvisational acting (improv) classes at The Upfront Theatre have improved my self-confidence significantly over the past three years, but I still have a way to go to keep insecurity from rearing its ugly head.

To become a successful author, we must be able to talk to anyone about our book, and not only talk, but sell it. Pacific Northwest author and friend Kim Kircher has blogged about her struggles with self-promotion during her recent book tour for her memoir, The Next 15 Minutes.

Experts propose a variety of suggestions on how we may overcome our fears, but most of them boil down to plugging our nose and jumping in with both feet. The simple act of surviving leads to a sense of accomplishment, which incrementally builds self-esteem and confidence. Getting on stage every week and writing this blog is me jumping in with both feet.

To further that effort, I opened my mind to other new experiences as well. Believe it or not, I recently worked as an extra in a rap music video. While that may not sound like a natural fit for a suburban mom and environmental scientist, the fact that it was outside my comfort zone was exactly what I needed.

Below is the video itself, Take My Pain Away by Conceit, directed by Darkheart Visions Production’s talented Domenic Barbero. Although not appropriate for children, the song is stuck in my head.

For most of the video shoot, I just focused on not screwing up, but I also drank in the new experience. What if I want to write fiction someday about a musician, or a video extra, or a film maker? This experience, one that none of my fellow 2nd grade moms would consider in a million years, was not only potential research for some future opus, but also a way for me to chase down my own insecurities with a baseball bat.

Articles I’ve read say that extra work is so small that it shouldn’t even appear on an acting resume. But I feel like shouting about this from the roof tops. “Hey everybody, I was scared to death to appear in a music video and I did it anyway!” The experience also brought other unexpected benefits. I met some very interesting, smart, confident, and (of course) beautiful people and learned a ton of tiny details about video production, acting, and especially fake blood (Thanks Langley West!).

This past weekend I also auditioned for the Upfront Theatre’s mainstage ensemble. Although I didn’t get a call back this time, I was proud of myself for having the courage to try. I stayed calm and positive during the audition process, and I wasn’t too hard on myself afterward. Shutting down my inner critic was a huge step for me. I came away from my audition with a clear list of what I need to do next time to really shine, and also gained a completely unique experience that most of my friends would never dream of attempting. Who knows, maybe this experience will appear in my next article, short story, play, or manuscript.

In this article (Thanks Sandi Pants!), The Office’s Jenna Fischer suggests working as an extra, or background artist, as one of the best ways to get started in the entertainment industry. Her random early experiences connected her to the people who years later cast her on The Office.

We can’t know with certainty what our future will hold, but the range of possibility is much smaller without the inspiration of fresh experience. So the next time the insecurity monster shows up at your house, consider grabbing him by the arm and dragging him into your new experience with you, head first.


Getting Out of the Way of the Story

For my monthly book club, a collection of well-educated mother’s of 8-year-olds known only to ourselves as the Readers and Breeders, we’re reading Tim O’Brien’s Vietnam book, The Things They Carried. I would have never guessed our little group would choose or read a book about Vietnam because we all admit that since we had children we can no longer watch the news, horror movies, or anything that remotely involves harming children or animals. But here we are reading a story that encompasses all three in gentle yet precise detail.

According to the Amazon review, the book was a finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award and “is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three.” I’m only half way through, and I have to admit that I’m not just reading it for pleasure or escape as I often do with book club fare, but this one I’m studying, dissecting, to observe what makes a Pulitzer finalist.

This morning I came along this little gem about storytelling buried deep in the heart of the book:

“Whenever he told the story, Rat had a tendency to stop now and then, interrupting the flow, inserting little clarifications or bits of analysis and personal opinion. It was a bad habit…because all that matters is the raw material, the stuff itself, and you can’t clutter it up with your own half-baked commentary. That just breaks the spell. It destroys the magic. What you have to do…is trust your own story. Get the hell out of the way and let it tell itself.”

A friend and I recently agreed that most books published today are much too long. I hate wading through a self-help book with rambling prose when I’m really just there for help.

The existing draft of my own memoir is still too long, full of self-analysis and the occasional soap box, so it’s good to be reminded that I don’t need to be afraid to cut away all that isn’t truly relevant, no matter how much I enjoyed writing it or how clever it makes me feel.

Staying out of the way of the story can also be applied to improvisational acting. The heart of a truly memorable improv scene can usually be summed up in a sentence or two, and yet on stage, we can struggle to find the “primal truth” that’s often completely obvious to the audience even after four minutes of dialogue.

So in my writing, and my improv, I’m going to take Mr. O’Brien’s sage advice and try to get the heck out of my own way, let the story show itself, in all its naked glory, unencumbered by fuss and convention. Wish me luck, and to you all I wish the same.

Improv at Work

To follow up on yesterday’s post, Improvisation in Life, incorporating improv principles can also help your career. Thanks to my friend Clare for this article  by Bryce Christiansen over at the Savvy Intern about Tina Fey’s business acumen as described in her humor memoir Bossy Pants. The focus is how she uses improv in her relationships at work.

I love Bossy Pants and would like my natural voice to come forth as freely in my writing as hers does.

Classes with the theme of “improv for business” are available across the country, including at my favorite Upfront Theatre, so if you’re serious about your work and haven’t yet taken one, get out there. It will change the way you look at your job, and probably make it a lot more fun!

(photo courtesy of the Savvy Intern)

Improvisation in Life

My good friend Tracy recently mentioned that she was studying improv (improvisational acting) every day without really trying because the lessons of improv are the lessons of life. She’s not the first one to say that, I’ve heard it many times, but I think it’s finally sinking in for me. When you incorporate the tenets of improv in your interactions with others, you’ll appreciate your relationships more and the quality of your life will probably improve.

Thanks to Billy Tierney, Bellingham’s Upfront Theatre Artistic Director, I found the TED speech below, The Way of Improvisation by storyteller, poet, and improviser Dave Morris of Victoria, BC. If you’re not familiar with TED talks, they’re short presentations by some of the worlds most interesting people who have “ideas worth spreading.”

My three years of improv study have certainly changed my life for the better. Dave’s advice (to play and be present, let yourself fail, listen well, say yes…and, play the game, and relax and have fun) is not hard work like changing your diet or exercise regime, its something you can incorporate all day long in your existing lifestyle.

Check out his video, give it a try in your life, and let me know how it goes for you!