Pen and Moon

musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Tag: play

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today I’m taking a break from the Subject of the Month to write about something new. Just shortly after My Life Changed Big-Time, I threw caution to the wind and decided to sign up for an improv class. Improv comedy has always intrigued me– I’ve gone to many performances over the years, I know a lot of people who do it, AND it scares the SH*% out of me. I’m not a person who feels comfortable doing public speaking. Even speaking one-on-one with a person who is a little bit intimidating can make my mind blank out, and I’ll have no idea what I was going to say.

I’m a writer, so communicating on paper comes completely naturally to me. The words flow, and I can free-write a la Natalie Goldberg til the cows come home (which is actually a bit improvisational, writing whatever comes to mind with no editing, and my mind and pen have no trouble with that). But I still remember the complete and utter panic I felt the night before teaching classes on National Novel Writing Month with my friend Sherri at The Loft. I knew my subject matter really well, but I was practically paralyzed and adrenalized with fear before and during the class.


I want YOU… to sign up for improv

So, when the Community Ed catalog showed up in my mail box, of course I signed up for an improv class! (Okay, logic is not always my strong suit.) Actually, I was inspired by a few things. I’ve been taking a great water aerobics class at the YWCA for a few years, and one delightfully funny woman in her 60s has told me about the improv classes she takes. She has such a joie de vivre and makes our class-time more fun with her brand of silliness. When she’d mention her improv to me, I’d be intrigued but scared out of my mind by the idea. Yet, something in me knew that it might help me with my speaking anxiety. It might help me be more comfortable in my own skin.

Then, after my husband’s crushing announcement, I needed something to grab onto. I wanted something different, something within my control to do, something life-changing in a way that *I* wanted it to be. My life was changing in ways I didn’t want it to, so this would be mine. And I also signed up just simply for the fact that it scared me so much. I have let fear rule and ruin my life for too long. I didn’t want that anymore. So, heart in hand, I signed up.

Going to the first class a few weeks ago was pretty intimidating. I had no idea what to expect, or how we’d learn improv. I was afraid of screwing up, looking foolish, being bad at it. But our young teacher was SO enthusiastic, so happy to be teaching us, and so eager to teach us some basic concepts that fear soon receded.

We played games, silly games to loosen up and warm up.   The 20 of us stood in a circle and were encouraged to jump into the center at random, do some little movement with some sound, and then everyone else would shout “Yes!” and copy the movement. Totally wacky, and soon it became easy to jump into the center because we were all “looking stupid” together. It was PLAY… in a way that grownups don’t often allow themselves to do.

It's okay to be a little corny

It’s okay to be a little corny

We were also learning about acceptance and agreement: one of the concepts in improv is to accept what your partners are doing and go with it. You might have had an idea for a different way for a scene to go, but it’s important to respond to what is actually happening, and go from there. (Hey, this sounds a lot like Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment!)

One of the most freeing aspects of improv for me has been learning to be okay with failure. Most of us in the class are complete beginners, and so, when playing our games, there’ll be moments where someone messes up, and I watch others expressing through their faces and body language the chagrin of failing, even at a silly task in a game. Our teacher constantly reminds us that failure doesn’t matter, it’s okay, we’re all going to mess up, and we need to let go of any emotional stigma around it. We’re here to look stupid and have fun, she tells us. We’re going to blank out. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. She’s had us play a few games that are purposely designed to get us used to failure. In one, we stand in a circle and throw an imaginary ball to someone across the room. The person receiving must not catch the ball– no matter what, it will drop to the ground. The receiver has to pick it up, and the rest of us applaud and cheer the fact that they missed it, and then they toss it to someone else who will likewise fail. It was practice, and we all got into dropping/missing the ball in creative ways. Failure became funny and acceptable.

I’m sure that a lot of people grow up with a stigma about failure or looking foolish. It’s human. I think I got a triple dose of perfectionism growing up, though, interpreting the emotional chaos in my family to mean that I needed to look, act and BE perfect to attempt to have some control over what was going on. I took my perfectionism pretty seriously. Bob reminds me that when I was finishing up my degree at St. Kate’s, I would have panic attacks about failing my classes when I was actually getting all As. In my early 20s, when I made the scandalous decision to all of a sudden move to Colorado to live with a guy, one of my cousins said, “I can’t believe Perfect Theresa is doing something like this.” I had a reputation.

So putting down my shield of perfectionism and getting permission—even encouragement—to fail is rather new for me. And freeing! Really? I can fail and everything will be okay? And I can have fun doing it? Wow.

Sure, I still squirm when we’re doing a mini-skit and my mind grasps for something to say. I wish I could be funnier, like some of my classmates naturally are. But then I try to remind myself that I’ve only been doing this for a month, and my goal is to feel more comfortable in speaking publicly, to just be able to be myself without fear. This is gonna take time, and that’s okay. I’m learning, and I’m proud of myself for doing something scary.

I’m delighted to say that I now look forward to improv class. It’s playful and silly and fun. I feel a little closer to the spontaneous and lively kid I once was. I know it will be $50 well-spent, to start walking down this road of peeling away more layers of false protection, learning to use my voice, learning there’s one thing I can never fail at:  Just Being Me.


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{Photos not credited are in the public doman.}

All This DRAMA in Our Life

Did you hear that sound?  One giant whooooosh as we all collapse in a heap now that the Minnesota Fringe Festival is done (not to mention all the other directors, actors, staff and volunteers involved all over the city also collapsing).  This was the first time our family got an inside view of what it takes to create and perform in a Fringe play, thanks to my husband, Bob.

A few years ago, Bob started talking about an idea he had — he wanted to create a performance where a diverse bunch of actors would learn all the lines to all the roles of some classic scenes, and then they would be cast randomly into those roles at the start of the play.  He talked about this off and on for quite awhile, and then this year, he put his name in for the Fringe Lottery.  “It takes some people years to get picked to do a show,” he said.  “I might as well start now.”  So of course, he was randomly selected on his first attempt!

When he found out last spring, he started working on writing his script.  He thought about casting and asked actors he knew to be in his show.  He had to learn how to put on a Fringe play, some through talking to others and reading materials sent by the organization, but mostly by trial and error.  Slowly at first, and then more emphatically as the weeks passed, the play began eating up a lot of his spare time outside of work.  He began rehearsals with the actors, learned to make a promotional video (below) with Imovie, figured out and found props, edited the script several times, made advertising postcards, then more rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals.


Photo: MN Fringe Festival

He called the play Principia Discordia, which translates to “The Principles of Chaos.”  The plot involves the Muse Thalia wanting to direct Fringe plays, and Eris, the Goddess of Chaos, messes things up by casting a spell to mix up the roles and actors in the plays by having them chosen randomly for parts.  She threatens to mix up the entire Minnesota Fringe Fest (and more)  if the actors can’t prove themselves to her with their acting.  The four actors have to play parts to scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cyrano de Bergerac, and The Importance of Being Earnest.

You could call this experimental theatre.  The actors were nervous but willing to try; learning all the lines and roles was a difficult challenge.  Everyone was behind the themes the play was exploring–  typecasting, exclusion, believability and empowerment.  The cast was diverse with differences in gender, race, age, height and physical ability (one actor is 2 1/2 feet tall, which made the Midsummer scene interesting, with Shakespearian slurs being thrown about being a dwarf, low and little– somtimes she had to say those lines to others, other times she had them said to her).

Then, in the spirit of Chaos, a week before the first performance, one of the actors had to leave the play.  Bob was frantically searching for an actor when it occurred to him that HE was the best candidate.  He wrote the play, knew all the blocking and the inside-outs of it.  He didn’t have lines memorized, but he had, gulp, a week to do that.

This kicked everything up a notch to crazy around our house.  Our family was trying to do everything we could to support him–  helping read lines, babysitting an actor’s child, creating the programs, helping make and distribute postcards, promoting the play, helping with props and odd errands.  Our home schedules were off, we were eating on the run, and there was nervous energy everywhere.

Photo:  MN Fringe Festival

Photo: MN Fringe Festival

The first performance came, and it all turned out great.  The concept of randomly casting actors turned out well, and as the week went on, each performance was unique (although one actress played Cyrano three times in a row, which became and inside joke).   I saw all 5 performances– I hadn’t intended to, but I was asked to video record several of the shows, so I did.  It was fun to see the differences in each one.

The week of performances meant more rehearsals, performing, then attending Fringe after-parties and trying to see other shows too.

All in all, it was a wild and crazy time, watching this play go from idea to reality.  It was really inspiring to see the creativity and work my husband and others put into this show.  I have a new sense of awe and respect for all the directors, actors and support people in the Fringe Festival community.  It takes a lot to put on a play!  Despite working a full time job, Bob took one little step and then another, moving forward to make his vision come to life.  It was a big task, but he did it.  This is a great example for me, who can get overwhelmed by big tasks, and great for our kids to see.  I’m proud of him, and I’m glad he did it, even though it through us all into chaos for awhile.

Congrats to Bob and his actors on a job well done!  Huzzah!

Some end notes:  The play got a review in the Vita.Mn newspaper.  Click here to read it.  It was also mentioned in this clip here.

Bob says he based the idea of his charcters Muse Thalia and Goddess Eris on writings by science fiction author Kelly McCullough.  He mentioned this to Kelly, who ended up driving in from Wisconsin to see the play, commenting that it was probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see his characters come to life in a play.  He wrote about seeing the play in his blog.

And here you can watch the very-short promotional video for the show.




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