Don’t quote me on this, but I think perhaps tonight I was … inspired.
Ugh, I know. I kind of hate myself for using that word, too. Believe me, I get it. “Inspired” is one of improv lingo’s most overused—and therefore meaningless—culprits. Telling someone to “be inspired” is tantamount to telling them to “smile”: it won’t mean anything unless it happens naturally. You can’t practice real inspiration. It hits you now and then, and you gotta hope to catch a bit of it before it evaporates. (I suggest using the Notes app on your phone.)
Truth is, I’ve been feeling a bit ambivalent about improv lately. I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking about improv. But I haven’t been performing improv much.
Example: I’m in a weekly show, Theatresports. It ends its two-month run in a few weeks. You should bring a second date to it. This show is usually a madcap delight for audiences, like a really great visit to Medieval Times. But being in the cast isn’t all that fulfilling, improvistically which is now totally a word so there shut up about it already kthnksbai. At most, I’m onstage for 50% of this 90-minute short form show. Most weeks it’s more like 20%. We stopped our rehearsals two weeks ago, so it’s really about 15 minutes of “seen scenes” per week.
And really, stage time matters. A bunch. It’s almost the point of this whole improv thing. Yes yes yes, the journey is more important than the destination. But stage time—SHOWS!—is a big chunk of that journey. Stage time matters, because that is where we flex our muscles. Stage time is to improv as baseball games are to throwing, catching, and hitting baseballs. Nobody wants to run ground out drills for the rest of their lives. They want to play a game, a bunch of games. 162 games, at least.
The point is this: I don’t have any large creative project going on, and I’m therefore free to get thinky about everything. No big opportunities on the horizon. Nothing to sink my teeth into at the moment. No, I’m not worried. I know that something will emerge. But in the meantime, I’m restless. I’m off my game—literally. I literally have a tough time identifying a game in a scene. I religiously attend the Tuesday Night Jams because I need to oil my joints or else I’ll rust. (Still, I rust.)
But tonight! Tonight I went to see the Cagematch at ColdTowne Theater. And I saw the best one hour of consistently quality improv I’ve seen all year.
First, a quick and important digression:
As I was waiting for the show to begin, I was paying close attention to the slideshow ColdTowne plays while the house fills up. This slide show, reminiscent of Alamo Drafthouse’s style in the most wonderful way, helped crystalize for me ColdTowne’s value to the Austin artistic community: It’s a factory. It’s a modern, adaptable, logistical, technologically advanced laboratory looking to crank out as much comedy as possible. Shows seven nights a week. Every week. It’s non-fucking-stop. Think about how lucky we, as Austinites are, to have that. Most people don’t have that. The other theaters in town are all wonderful, full of unique and wonderfully productive folks. Love ’em all. But only ColdTowne opens its doors every night of the year. That’s a community service of the noblest variety.
Tonight, three troupes competed: Field Day, Interntown, and That Racket! All three troupes were essentially brand new. Only “Field Day” had played together before, kind of, barely.
And all three were fantastic. I’ll heap some extra special praise on Field Day, who are made up of improvisers even newer than me. This troupe, six people deep, was the purest illustration of instant enthusiastic agreement I can remember. No fear, no hesitation, no winks at the audience, no distractions, no aloof above-it-allness. They listened. They said YES! They added. They listened. They threw themselves into each scene instantly, but without being a cluttered mess. Rhythm! Harmony! Oy!
And then “Interntowne,” made up of about 4.3 billion ColdTowne interns, was just a sheer delight. A fantastic give and take, even though they’d never played together before—and even though there are 4.3 billion of them. Perhaps the hardest I laughed all night was when one of the interns, when asked the strangest thing he’d seen while working as an intern at the theater, replied simply, “Just … Vampire people.” (Maybe you had to be there, howling with the rest of sold-out crowd.)
And lastly was another inaugural show from “That Racket!” which is a musical improv troupe that formed, more or less, at Merlin Works. With a maestro on the keyboards, and another severe case of playful agreement, they sang and danced for almost 20 straight minutes. They barely flagged, and the theatrical touches, the Broadway-ness of it all, was exceptional, especially when crammed into the ColdTowne bunker.
Start to finish, top to bottom, I was inspired by these fresh young Turks. I remember, lo those many (19) months ago, when I was hungry and eager and playful. I can still bring the ruckus, don’t get me wrong. And I’m kind of tearing it up on the short-form circuit lately.
But I need something into which I can throw a reignited passion. Maybe it’s an update to my lovely duo, Mandinka. And maybe it’s getting cast in one of the shows I’m looking forward to this fall. Who knows, doesn’t matter, point is: tonight I again got to see, up close, real close, what fun improv can be, what a lack of fear and a smidge of talent can do (namely, bring a theater full of people to howls).
I was inspired.
Thanks, all y’all.
p.s. It occurs to me that the Cagematch tonight included representatives from three of the five schools in town: Field Day from the Hideout; Interntown from ColdTowne; and That Racket! from Merlin Works. How cool is that?