I don’t believe I ever really appreciated the full power of having a different perspective on the world until I started working as a busboy in a trendy surf-and-turf restaurant in San Antonio when I was 16 years old.
This was back in the 1970s, and the whole cool, laid back, waiters-wearing-flowery-Hawaiian-shirts-instead-of-starched-tux-shirts-with-bow-ties was new to South Texas, and even though it was more expensive than a Denny’s or a Sambo’s (Yeah, seriously, Denny’s biggest competitor back then was a chain called “Sambo’s.” I know, I know, I know … but remember this whole essay is about “perspective” so don’t totally condemn it or us) our place was still a lot more affordable than the fine dining places at the time, so we became quite popular with the young, single, date set.
I found that the common busboy, due to his relative invisibility, was able to see and observe far more about humanity than the waiters, the hostesses, or even the people on the dates themselves. We busboys just “were.” We didn’t talk to customers; we circulated quietly about wiping down tables, filling water glasses, and picking up the empty appetizer plates. I think we were looked upon the same way people with hamsters or goldfish view house pets: we provided some service, yet it was unnecessary to interact with us in any human way. In the course of my two year busboy career I overheard some very interesting seduction attempts, clumsy break-ups, telling-offs and coming-ons.
But what really got me thinking about perspective were the blouses and the boobs. Women on dates tend to dress attractively and in that day and age this included exposing somewhat more cleavage than is commonly exposed today. Their couture was probably very respectable from eye level, but when viewed from the advantage of two feet above while carrying a water pitcher to refill glasses or a tray or a bus tub, the exposure was quite different. Eyebrow wags and furtive glances would pass from busboy to busboy whenever a new, revealing, plunging neckline was discovered and this silent communication would ensure that that particular table would never lack for tea refills, suffer through the agony of an empty bread basket, or be forced to have to negotiate a maze of empty plates or full ashtrays to reach one’s utensils; as there would be a veritable army of busboys standing in line in an attempt to take care of every one of these needs.
Rereading these opening paragraphs, I realize that I come across as a voyeuristic, sex-crazed Peeping Tom; however, let us once again focus on the primary theme: Perspective.
From personal experience I can assure you that almost all pubescent males would have the same response to the stimuli that we did. Gandhi, Buddha, Thoreau most likely experienced similar reactions. And even though the views that inspired them might have varied from an exposed ankle to a delicately shaped collar bone, the reaction and surreptitious staring would have been the same. As a high school teacher I have more frequent opportunities to consider actions in terms of immaturity and outright teenage stupidity than most; but the importance of considering things in perspective goes far beyond excusing youthful mistakes.
The recent shenanigans at the Texas State Capitol would be one example. I was in the midst of it as much as I could be, wearing my burnt orange bicycle jersey (the purchase of which cut to the core of my Aggie soul), and doing whatever I could to support women’s rights; but even when faced with busloads of transported, blue-shirt-clad Right-to-Lifers singing hymns loudly in my ear in the rotunda, I still tried to consider the issue from their perspective. These people felt strongly (albeit wrongly in my opinion) that they were trying to save human lives, so one couldn’t really get angry with them. I was infuriated by many of the tactics employed by our elected officials to stifle public expressions of protest, but I feel strongly that even Dewhurst and (gulp!) Abbott believed that they were trying to do something right and good. Why and how else could such strongly religious men stoop to lying, cheating and subterfuge in order to achieve their goals unless they truly felt the glory of the “end” justified the treachery of the “means?”
Improvisation is the ultimate exercise to help one appreciate and employ various perspectives. When you are called upon to portray three, four or more different spontaneous characters in the course of a 45-minute show the temptation is always there to streamline your characterizations. A two-dimensional character is much easier to create on the fly than one with depth, and stereotypes are a quick and easy way to establish the “who” of your “who, what and where” holy scene-start improv trinity. But striving to grasp the perspective of the character you’ve just created, even though his/her life might be no longer than a minute, adds so much more interest to a scene or even to a pimp game.
I know it’s almost impossible to be a “Method Improviser;” truly getting inside the skin and soul of that gay Cuban proctologist at the beach that the ass in the third row kept constantly shout-suggesting until the host felt obligated to take it to shut him up (Breathe, Lampe … count to ten, he’s just a very inexperienced improv audient … remember: PERSPECTIVE!); but certainly you can do better than tearing off your shirt while holding up a rubber gloved finger to the audience while shouting with a pronounced lisp, “LUCY! YOU GOT A LOT OF ‘SPLAININ’ TO DO!!” Instead, try to feel his motivations. Did he emigrate from Cuba? Is he in a loving relationship? Is he enjoying his vacation? Is he even on a vacation?
You may not agree with the beliefs, actions and/or choices of others in life, on stage, in traffic (which is my biggest challenge); but if you understand that their understanding of all the above may be predicated upon a completely different set of circumstances, life lessons, automobile maintenance … then not only will your improv be more rewarding and fun, so will your day-to-day existence.
At least it seems so from my perspective.