By Danielle Susi
In improvisation we are taught to say “yes.” To whole-heartedly agree with our team and to contribute more, never fearing something becoming too big. Follow the thing you are most afraid of, they say, and as long as I stayed in the class that shouldn’t be a problem.
It took me a while to get comfortable. Our teacher would ask me how my weekend was and I became terrified of what might tumble out of my mouth. I hung back during the first round of an exercise where we jumped into a circle one at a time and sang a song lyric that connected, in some way, to the one sung previously. I got the courage to join in the second round, and threw myself into the circle belting out Driver, roll up the partition please and everyone sang along. After week three of class my knees finally stopped shaking.
Is this reading? They did give us a book. Del Close and Charna Halpern, the creators of the particular style of improv we learn at iO theater in Chicago, wrote Truth in Comedy, which outlines the philosophy and methodology of long-form improvisation. Del passed away in 1999, but Charna still runs the theater.
The key to long-form is to stop thinking—which seemed totally impossible to me. The book, though, repeats that the truth is funny. Stop trying to be funny. The real things that happen to us are the most hilarious.
The “Harold,” a specific form designed by Del and Charna is designed to help the actor recognize pattern and to subvert an audience’s expectations. The first thing we learn is careful listening. The “Harold” is already non-linear, so if you aren’t listening to what’s happening on stage you won’t be able to contribute much.
You can probably see where this is going.
I find myself agreeing to a lot more now. When opportunities present themselves I rarely hesitate. I take on more creative projects, fly across the country for a reading, don’t shy away from a microphone when hosting an event. The improvisational motto is meant to work its way into one’s life as well, and how could it not? If one night a week you get a high from saying “yes” for three hours straight, you’re going to want to recreate that feeling every day.
But, it’s about more than just agreeing, it’s about giving more. I started this class when I had to stop giving more to another part of my life, when I had to pull back from people and places that had run their course. Letting go of something that once made me happy is a difficult process, a loss, and improv teaches me how regain control of my happiness and reminds me how funny life has the potential to be.
Danielle Susi is the author of the chapbook The Month in Which We Are Born (dancing girl press, 2015). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Knee-Jerk Magazine, Hobart, and The Rumpus, among many other publications. She is a columnist for pioneertown and Entropy; a contributor to American Microreviews & Interviews, The Conversant, and The Angle; and the co-editor of HOUND. She received her MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Newcity has named her among the Top 5 Emerging Chicago Poets. Find her online at daniellesusi.com.