SH Sean Harding/blog
Beginning Improv, Part Two: The First Class!
Sunday, October 29th, 2006

In the weeks leading up to my first improv class, I experienced a bunch of conflicting emotions. I was excited to be doing something new, but I was also terrified to have to perform in front of other people. I was eager to meet some new people, but I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to match their brilliance. I was especially afraid of needing to be funny — I was sure that all of my classmates would be hilarious, and I’d be outed as a bore. In the end, the excitement may have surpassed the terror by a small margin, but was a very close race.

Class was at 7pm on a Tuesday. The room was on the fourth floor of the Center House in Seattle Center. The Center House was originally built in 1939 as an armory. It’s been renovated a few times since then, but it still retains a good bit of creepiness. At night, when almost no one else is there, it’s not a very welcoming place. I didn’t even know the Center House had a fourth floor, let alone how to get there. After a number of wrong turns down deserted hallways, I found the rickety elevator and made my way up to four.

The room I walked in to was a little bit intimidating. It was a fairly large, open room. The floor was painted black, but it was desperately in need of a new paint job. There was a beat up piano, an exceedingly dirty couch and a lineup of chairs and black wooden boxes around the edge. The back wall of the room had some papers taped to it with what looked like acting instructions. Those truly terrified me — I didn’t expect to get into such advanced material so soon! Fortunately, it turned out that they weren’t for our class. About five or six of my classmates had already arrived when I got there. A few of them were engaged in conversation, and a few were sitting silently, staring at the floor. I initially chose the second option, but then I decided that I should try to be outgoing, so I started talking to people. It turned out that my classmates were mostly in the same place I was — none of them had any improv experience, and only a few had a bit of acting. I could tell that almost everyone was a little nervous to be there.

As soon as our teacher started talking, I felt much more at ease. She was kind, funny and very reassuring. She told us that we should keep things in perspective: even if we do a bad scene, that doesn’t mean we’re bad people. As long as we’re nice to our families, friends and pets, we should feel good about ourselves. That seems obvious in retrospect but it really helped me calm down about being “good enough.” She told us that not all scenes need to be funny to be worthwhile. She also gave us a quick speech on being safe, and avoiding injuries. Immediately after that, we did a name game in which we did a physical motion while saying our names. Of course, I managed to skin my knee through my jeans! Clearly I didn’t pay enough attention during the safety lecture.

We spent the rest of the class learning some of the most basic improv building blocks: offers; yes, and; blocking (and why it’s bad); and freeing our minds to be creative without over thinking everything. We did a number of warm-ups, some basic exercises and finally a few scenes. I found it really hard just let my mind work, and not try to come up with clever responses. However, many of the exercises forced me to react very quickly, so I was effectively forced to abandon that habit. It was exhilarating to actually do a scene with other people. To be honest, I was a bit amazed that I could do it. But it wasn’t nearly as hard as I’d expected. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me if I wanted to be good, but at least I could get through a scene without dying.

After the first class, most of my fear was gone. I was excited to be doing improv, and I had a lot more energy than I’d had going in. I was thrilled to have the wonderful Jill Farris as my teacher. Most importantly, I was really excited to go to the next class.

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