Milling about were mostly millennial men half my age or maybe a third. When I signed up, I didn’t remember why people ask friends to take classes with them. It’s to not feel silly showing up at a beginner improv workshop at the local comedy club on a Sunday morning.
Once a straight A student, I felt like an “F” was a distinct possibility for this course. My hard work and homework got me through lots of life. But on the empty black stage there would be no previous preparation, no planning. For years I’ve tried to take myself less seriously. I never seem to match up to the people who are playful without working at it. Improv was a place to practice.
Scott was an exceptional teacher. He zipped us through one lesson after another, teaching fundamentals of theater where the performance is created in the moment. With short exercises he gave no time to obsess about being unable to mimic the accent of Italian grandmother or respond to an imaginary three eyed green leopard.
“Yes and” was the first fundamental. When your partner makes a suggestion, your response is always a yes. Yes regardless of the absurdity of the scene, the uncertainty of the facts, or the irrelevance of the words. With each yes, a story unfolds.
“Okay now we’re going to do some scenes.” I quietly took the deepest breath I could muster. A short time later as fellow students gave feedback I covered my face with both hands hoping to keep my embarrassment from going as wide as it felt deep.
“Now let’s practice not being funny.” My shoulders relaxed. I played the role as true as I could and in under two minutes my eyes got moist. And people laughed. Apparently a 60 year old woman’s authentic self can lead to hilarious humor for people the age of her children. I had improvised with authenticity instead of effort, instead of my “trying too hard” way that’s familiar to me.
The class was suddenly over, having flown by. Scott had supported us be fully present, wholly attentive. The result: I had laughed and relaxed despite my discomfort at being in unfamiliar territory with strangers doing something I’d never done before.
Divorce is a crash course in improvisation. Preparing for divorce can make it easier, but it’s impossible to plan a scene that is so far removed from what you ever imagined for your life. Divorce demands the rules of improv:
Say “Yes.” Not yes as in “I agree” or “I like it.” But yes to accepting that which is. Seek surrender where you can, and say “Yes, it is so.” The papers are filed. I am moving. Court is tomorrow.
Say “And.” Remember that there is more to your story, and you begin to write it today. What is my next small move? What joy can I find today? What else is possible for my future?
Stay here. It’s tempting to dwell on past mistakes and to panic about what may be coming next. Even as you grieve losses, regret mistakes, and ponder possibilities for your future, remember to be attentive to the moment which is yours right now.
Stay you. When you find yourself scared by being with characters who confuse you or spaces that are strange, be true to you. It’s the one sure place where you can be proud of your performance, no matter how the audience responds.