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Yes And…Fuck No


Excellent sticker from last year’s SXSW Interactive.

I hate improv.

By which I mean I am very bad at it. I am as likely to be described as free-thinking and in-the-moment as I am of possessing a bubbly personality.

Improv is very popular in Austin so criticizing it is akin to disliking the talky-singing thing that Willie Nelson does. I have taken a few classes in the mistaken belief that I could get better at it. Panic sets in around the second or third game which usually involves throwing a squishy ball at someone else in the group while making a sound. It’s terribly stressful to come up with a unique sound, though of course the instructors will tell you that whole point is not to think about the sound until it’s your turn. At which point you just open your mouth and let it come out. Like Tourettes Syndrome.

I also dislike watching improv when the audience is asked for a suggestion because it’s usually framed in such a way that the improvisers have a pretty good idea of the responses they’ll get. If they ask, as one group recently did at Fronterafest, for a suggestion of something you enjoyed as a child there’s a fairly high chance that they’ll get riding a bike or rollerskating or swimming. Less likely that the suggestion will be having a leisurely wank. And even if it is, the performers will somehow go deaf to it. Even if you shout it.

Worse is when the suggestion is taken and the improvisers go about their performance without ever making reference to it. And if the actual improv is just an interminably long conversation between two people about nothing at all without any actual heightening or point then I’d sooner go and watch a Chekhov piece about paint drying.

My point, because there is one, is that proper improv is based on the philosophy of saying YES, AND… In other words, agreeing with whatever has just been said and then building on it as you raise the stakes to create something watchable and powerful. If you say NO right at the top of the scene there’s nowhere for you or your partner to go and you’re a jerk.

In much the way that Hull has been voted as the UK city of culture, I decided to take the unexpected and questionable decision to make 2015 my year of Yes. Note the absence of multiple or even a singular exclamation point. This is a quiet yes, and involves agreeing to new opportunities and suggestions without thinking about them long enough to change my mind. At the beginning of the year I hoped this would create some new experiences and ways to fail and might lead me back onto a stage by the end of it.

It is March 1, officially two months since I began. I have been to a 5 minute performance group which was not as short as it sounds and was far more fun than expected. I took part in an all-women group creativity, goal-setting, empowery weekend thing where I did not cry. I also started a 21 day online drawing challenge with my husband. Yes, my animator, illustrator, cartoonist husband. We started the challenge on January 15 and I am currently on Day 11.

At some point, when I may have been on Vicodin, I also agreed to take a graphic novel workshop with Erik at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont in August. This is a week long class where we can develop our work, get feedback and generally talk about graphic novels. I am slightly stuck on the ‘develop your work’ part, given that I don’t actually have any work.

Since I failed to complete my stage play, I have a fanciful notion that I can use the graphic novel medium to tell the story of last year’s craziness with the birth mother popping her clogs and the not-French Armenian father and Charles Aznavour and the half-blood sister. The only minor flaw with this plan is that I can’t fucking draw. But at least my sticky out right ear and sharp nose will help distinguish the stick figures. And as my friend Lauren said, if worst comes to worst, just draw yourself as a circle with a beret.

As per yesterday’s post, I am doing something that terrifies me. My great worry is that everyone else in the class will wonder why the hell I’m there if I clearly cannot draw. As a parallel, Lauren asked me how I’d feel if a painter came to a writer’s workshop that I was in. I take the point, but my sense is that I’d laugh and whisper about them with my other clever writer pals.

If only I’d chosen to climb Kilimanjaro this year instead of next.

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