There was this time when I was a second year in acting school – this school specialized in Improvisation (co-founded by Paul Sills who co-founded Second City) – I was performing in the Friday night Improvisation show.
When Improvisation is practiced in class, it is about being present in the moment. There are separate performance games for the shows. Our Friday night shows were free and were standing room only.
This week was the first time the first years would perform. Several of the first-year guys tell me how nervous they are, and I said to them, “It’s OK. I got your back.”
Improvisation is an exercise in not knowing and staying present. Musical Improvisation is a turbocharged sense of unknowing. A pair of people take the stage. An audience suggestion is accepted of Where we are. Then the pianist plays a first note. The players must devise a song right there on the spot.
In class, were given teaching, a musical songwriter structure A B B A. Most people in my school would not play this. Too scary. I figured what didn’t kill me would make me stronger.
This night, my partner Joey and I are set in a Space Ship for a Moonshot.
The first piano note is played. We look into each other’s’ eyes. I begin. The song establishes we are mother and son. I sang, he sang, we sang and thoroughly enjoyed. The audience roared.
We kept connection. It’s like what Amy Poehler said in her commencement speech to Harvard graduates about Improvisation. “You only have to look into your partner’s eyes to know that you are safe.”
Joey’s gesture of keeping his gaze with me made this an unforgettable moment. I felt seen. This gesture and the moment of connection held us safe. It allowed us to be wildly playful and creative much to the audience’s delight.
It felt like what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes in his book FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – an out-of-body experience where you experience space and time differently.
Photo credit: Sammie Vasquez @sammieeev