I pulled up to the corner of 21st and Larimer, hoping to find an easy parking spot. The digital clock reflected the time -- 6:01 p.m. -- and the rain obscured the view through my rear view mirror.
Had I known the Rockies were playing a home game, I would have come sooner. Had I known there would be mostly parallel parking, being a suburban, Arizona girl, I probably would have walked.
6:02 p.m. The class was already starting. The time for a decision was now: do I pull one of my dozen excuses and go home... or do I commit, figure out how to parallel park in the moonlit rain, and arrive, however many minutes late, to improvise!
I could walk you from the anxious shivering of my legs to the cold prickle on my spine as I strolled past a dark Greyhound Bus Terminal, but I'll jump straight to the cliff notes highlights: I chose improv. I made it about 15 minutes late, meekly shuffled onto the stage, and found my home.
And spoiler alert: the lessons you learn in improv are actually about life offstage.
Lesson 1. Yes, and . . .
Your partner rushes onstage with a flaming ham just as the improvised doorbell rings with Easter guests. There is no way this scene could escalate . . . except, it can. With your imagination, with your abandonment to the creative impulses in your brain, this scene can and will escalate. It will become bigger and better at each turn.
Because you approach this life with faith that what is happening now is wonderful and something better is soon to come. Because you let your faith lead you to unabashedly give this Easter scene your all. And, guess what?! You suddenly realize that the ham is on fire and the city is out of water!
Lesson 2. Trust in your team.
They'll push you. They'll challenge you. They'll mess with your mind. Your team will make you play your weaknesses before live audiences, and they will make you sit in the discomfort of being alone . . . by yourself . . . on stage . . . with nothing to say.
And because of them, you will grow. Your scenes will be stronger, your repertoire more diverse. Because of them, you will know that, if you are falling, someone will come out to catch you . . . or, at the very least, fall with you. Because of the people who surround you, your life will be one of continual growth and support - even if you never do master that Latin accent they keep throwing your way!
Lesson 3. Go there.
Go to those places that make you afraid. Go to those places where you 'don't belong.' Go to your limits and push past them. Go there. Before a supportive audience, hand-in-hand with cherished friends and teammates, go there. You will find yourself in the territory you once would feared, and you will have no choice but to share that discovery with pride. It's a live show after all!
Lesson 4. Play in the moment.
Yes, I am a grown adult who has, in the past year, set a time to "play" at a friend's house. And I see nothing guilty about this pleasure! Just think about it: when was the last time you played, and I mean really played? When was the last time you used your imagination to envision a whole new universe and then stepped into a made-up role without a script? When was the last time you abandoned your thoughts, jumped past your judgments, and just had fun.
There's something so magical about being in the moment, something so beautiful about existing with this freedom. And, I say, it doesn't have to end with the closing sweep of an improv scene!
Lesson 5. Find the game, and change it!
To return to the "rules" of improv, a lot of scenes develop around a game - that funny element that draws laughter and continuity through the actual content. Maybe the game is the actual content. Whatever it is, find it. Look for the humor and joy everywhere, the opportunity to make others smile. Grab onto that amazing discovery and help it grow, help it reach more and more people around you.
And when the rules of that game stop working, change them! Go back to the drawing board and find a new source of joy. It's your game, your scene, your life, after all.
Lesson 6. Invest in your voice.
If every city has, let's say, two improv theaters, and every theater hosts 100 improvisers, and there are 19,354 cities in the United States . . . we don't need a calculator to figure out that your amazingly funny idea might have already been done at another theater or in another show. Your spontaneous, zestful humor might be old news. Except . . .
No improviser has ever done that idea with your voice. No team has done that scene through your eyes. So, don't you see? It's you that is unique. It's you (and your team) that is the 'hot commodity' selling tickets and spreading chuckle-driven abdominal pain. So you owe it to yourself, your teammates, and your audience to share that you with full authenticity. Carry it in your elevated shoulders. Spew it in your spit-laden dialect. Vocalize it in your off-key tone. Dig into the authentic imperfections of who you are and allow that authenticity to magnify the splendor of your presence in each scene - both as a lead and as a support.
Lesson 7. Remember, in the end, it's just a show.
Should you give each show 100% and fully commit to every choice on-stage? Yes! Should you persevere through the rocky scenes and support your teammates as they find their limelight? Of course! Should you share side-numbing laughter at each show? Well, ideally yes, but realistically, no. You can't expect success at every show. It doesn't happen. You will get on stage, crash and burn, and realize you still have another ten minutes of the set to fill. And then, the next night, you'll have to get back up. It happens, and what makes a good improviser great is not just experience and talent but perseverance.
When things go wrong, will you be among the greats who pushes through, learns more about yourself, and keeps trying, or will you let the laughter fade? The choice is always yours.
Spoiler alert: This Tucsonan kept coming back (and at the very least, semi-mastered parallel parking in the process). Who knows what joy you will find when you jump into life as an improviser?!
The doctor said she would live in a nursing home, confined to a wheelchair, crippled by pain; that was thirteen years ago. Instead, Mirissa D. Price is a 2019 DMD candidate at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, spreading pain-free smiles, writing through her nights, and, once again, walking through her days.