By Alyce Wilson
March 21, 2006 - Finding Gold
Sunday was the last session of my improvisational comedy class. Because it was an additional date that had been added on due to a snow cancellation, we were in a different room. Rather than the basement props room, we were in a second floor room that was even scarier.
The walls had been haphazardly patched over the years, and in portions of the ceiling you could see boards where the plaster was missing. Around the walls of the room were stacking random pieces of wood and other unwanted items. The floor was not only uneven but creaky, which gave me the creeps.
"We're not going to fall through the floor, are we?" I asked, admitting to recurring dreams about such things. Dave assured us we wouldn't. But while we did our warm-up, which involved some jumping around, the floor started to make noises. I whimpered, and everybody laughed.
After we did a few warm-up games like Psycho Circle, we launched right into doing more scene work, this time in front of the group.
I got up with Gerry, and we were coal miners. I started out with picking at something in the wall. Gerry came in and said, "Cynthia, is that you?" Like it was really dark in there and there were no lights.
"Is that you, George?" We bitched about not having lights. "My pick's stuck," I complained, and he grabbed the handle to help me pull it out. On the recoil, it got stuck in his back.
"Oh, this is bad," I said. "You're not supposed to remove it, are you?" But I tried anyway, with the result that blood started spurting out of his back. In addition to having no lights, we also had no first aid kits, so I just kept my hand on it, until I found a bandana to stuff in the hole. Dave ended the scene and complimented us on finding a problem and resolving it.
"Somewhat disturbing," I said, cheerily.
"That's OK," he said.
Lindsay got up with Carol. They were coworkers on a spaceship. Amusingly, they started the scene with their hands up, and the natural assumption was that they were at a bank of computers or flight controllers. But Carol started, "This cafeteria food is great," so it became a line in a cafeteria, and they were putting food on their plates.
The idea was introduced I forget which of them offered it that there was a gorilla on board. Then Carol volunteered that it was her brother. I wasn't sure whether she was changing the offer from a gorilla to a person or whether she was really related to gorillas.
Ricardo got up with Ciara, and they were sailors on a boat. He was trying to pull something out of the water with a rope, and she was completely disinterested in it. But he got her to help him, and they were pulling up something heavy.
Ciara, at Dave's direction, got a cell phone call and let go of the rope. Ricardo started really struggling, which was hilarious. She was just chatting with her friend, ignoring him, and he was shaking as he tried to hold on. After he pleaded with her, she put the phone on speaker phone and helped him. Then they both fell over backwards, letting go of the rope, and Ciara said, "Great. Now the sail's in the water."
After a beat, Ricardo said, "Could you call somebody?" That scene went extremely well, because Ricardo really sold it with his physical movements.
Lori was paired with Geoff. They were coworkers in a barber shop, sweeping up. They were just complaining about the job when Lori discovered some dog hair. But it wasn't just fur; it was a small, vicious dog.
They threw it into a corner violently, and when they discovered it was still alive, Geoff went over and stomped on it!
Marlene got up with Fran. They were cowgirls, and they ended up with a vicious horse threatening to bite Marlene. Unhappy with this, Marlene lassoed herself a man, instead.
Then, we learned a new game, Blind Line. This is basically scene work, but there would be lines written on pieces of paper that, every once in awhile, you'd pick up and read. The lines were gathered from audience suggestion while the actors were out of the room. You had to justify the line, as if it was what your character would have said.
I was paired with Fran, and we were Girl Scouts at a Jamboree. She greeted me cheerfully, "Hi, Sally!"
"Hi, Sarah," I said, hugging her. "It's been, like, a week." That got a laugh. Then I announced that I was going to be "super sales cookie girl of the year." At this point, she told me that she'd sold 30 boxes, and I admitted I'd only sold two.
I forget what line she picked up, but it seemed to fit really well. She was showing me all the different kinds of cookies she had, and I confessed to having eaten two boxes of them. She started to cry, so I picked up a line, which was absolutely unrelated. "It's too bad that Office Max is closing."
But she helped me out: "That's where I was going to get my cookies," she sobbed.
Trying to get her to stop crying, I offered her one of my boxes. The tears dried up as she took it, saying thank you. I stuck out my hand: "That'll be five dollars." Everybody laughed.
Ciara and Gerry volunteered next. When we sent them out of the room to write down more lines, Ciara joked, "We'll try not to make out." So we made that one of the lines: "Let's try not to make out." It's karma what followed.
They were a father and daughter on a camping trip. He started the scene by warning her about all the animals in the woods. Of course, this really upset her. She was acting like a scared little kid, talking in a sort of nerdy little kid voice.
He got a line that said, "You're my hero." He continued, "Because you're being so brave." Dave told her to act brave, and she put her arms up like she was flexing her biceps. It was hilarious.
Gerry was making a fire while still warning her about the dangers in the woods. She said she was going to go in the tent, and she went inside and zipped it. He stood outside, making growling noises. "Stop it, Dad. That's not funny." So she came out: "I'm not going to be in the tent anymore."
Then she picked up a line and started laughing uncontrollably. Dave told her she had to read it. "Let's try not to make out."
"And that's scene," Dave said, cutting them off.
Marlene and Lori were stuntwomen on a set. Dave gave them a little direction after a couple sentences, suggesting that Marlene be someone who'd been in the business for 30 years and was resentful of this young, energetic upstart. That was funny, because Marlene got a line that said, "You are so beautiful to me," and to justify that, she offered to teach Lori everything she knew. The scene devolved into them sharing gossip about celebrities they'd worked with.
Ricardo and Carol were clowns getting ready for a show. Some lines came up that Carol had actually contributed. Ricardo picked up one line: "The bottle says Tim, not Jessica." They had difficult figuring out what to do with this, because Carol was sort of stalling by trying to read the bottle and claiming her glasses weren't working. Finally, they established that it was a personalized champagne bottle and it was Tim and Jessica's anniversary, but the bottle only had his name on it.
Our favorite scene of all, though, had to be Geoff and Lindsay, who I've noticed work really well together. They end up working together a lot, because there are some of us who just jump up right away. I'm one of those people, as is Ciara, Colleen and Fran. Then there are others who hang back and watch a few other teams before volunteering. Geoff and Lindsay are both like this, so they work together a lot.
This time, they were leprechauns, which was Carol's suggestion. Lindsay walked in, and because it was two days after St. Patty's Day, complained that she had a massive hang over and everything was too loud. Geoff came up to her like a traditional leprechaun: "Top of the morning to you! Let's go look for the pot of gold!"
"Could you keep it down?" she murmured, holding her head.
She picked up a line that said, "What a great tea party," and Geoff and she started drinking out of tiny little cups while Geoff was being really chatty. She was clearly not feeling well. He said, "You wouldn't be in so much pain if you drank less."
She said, "Well, excuse me for having a social life. Not something you'd know about."
He said, "I have a social life. I take care of the Pegasus and the unicorn." He gestured out back to where, presumably, their stables were.
She complained that his tea was pretty weak, basically just water. What he didn't know, she said, was that after he fell asleep from drinking decaffeinated tea, the unicorn and the Pegasus came out on the town with her!
Floored, he said, "They go out without me? Why doesn't anyone invite me along?"
She let him know that he wasn't cool enough.
Then Geoff picked up a line, and he couldn't have planned it any better. He read it, paused a second and then shouted the line: "Just get the freak out!"
Everybody applauded and laughed. It was a great, great moment. That really showed how that game can work at its best.
Then we learned a new game, Shopkeeper. You have a shopkeeper who's sent out of the room, because they're not allowed to know what the other players are looking to buy. The objects are established through audience suggestion. When the shopkeeper returns, the other players have to get them to sell them the items, without being too obvious about what they're requesting. For example, you can't get them to sell you a toaster by telling them you need to toast some bread.
We started with regular objects to get the idea, and then we changed it up. Now, they were ordinary objects with a strange twist. So Ciara got up as shopkeeper and Gerry and Dave were the shoppers. Dave was looking for glasses that whisper to you, and Gerry was looking for tweezers that were on fire. They both did a great job of giving her the clues she needed to get it.
When I got up as the shopkeeper, I had Marlene and Geoff as shoppers. Marlene's was hard to guess. She told me she had some papers she needed to glue together. I was guessing all kinds of glue, but none of them were what she wanted. People started laughing at my frustration. Out of desperation I suggested tape and staples. Dave had her take a break, and I dealt with Geoff.
His was easier to guess. He said that he was trying to get to the store and went east instead of west. "You need a compass," I said. He said yes.
Marlene returned and tried to convey her item, but I just couldn't get it. So we went back to Geoff, and I had to figure out what the unusual aspect was. He put the compass on the ground and said, "It doesn't do anything. It needs to stick with me." He walked away, "Come on, compass."
I guessed that he needed a robot compass, a compass with GPS and a compass that acted like a dog. Finally, he said, "It would help if it had feet."
"Oh! A compass that walks!" That was it.
Turned out Marlene was looking for a glue stick, but she wasn't real clear on what that was. She kept describing something like a tube that you'd squeeze. I couldn't think of anything that did that, other than Elmer's Glue and mucilage.
Dave reassured me that "it's never the fault of the guesser." I know I was trying really hard to guess it, too. I think if she'd understood better what she describing, she could have conveyed it more clearly.
Ricardo tried to get someone to guess an invisible kayak and got into trouble because he was trying to get them to guess the whole thing at once. Later on, though, he successfully got someone to guess a pocketbook made out of paper. That is, after Dave realized that he didn't know that "pocketbook" was synonymous with "purse" and allowed him to go with "purse" as a response.
Some of the other objects were a flying broom. Carol got the shopkeeper to guess this. Lindsay successfully conveyed an air conditioner that shoots water, and there were a couple others who participated as well, going up in teams of three.
Finally, Dave let us choose games we wanted to do again. Lori wanted to do Arms Control, so I got up with her. I let her choose what she wanted to be, and she wanted to be the arms, so I was the expert. I was an expert in Chinese Checkers, and while I didn't start off intending to be an unpleasant character, it ended up that way.
He asked me how I started playing, and she was making a lot of motions of picking up marbles, so I talked about how I found a lot of marbles and put them in holes on a board and had a game. "So, you invented Chinese Checkers?" Dave asked.
"Or, maybe I read a book," I confessed.
He asked how I started playing the game, and Lindsay was making motions with her hands like a seesaw, then made the sort of motion people make to indicate people gabbing. I said I was on a seesaw, and the other person was talking and talking and talking. "I thought maybe if I got them to play a game, they'd shut up."
In response to the next question, it came out that the way I win is by hitting people over their head with a stick and then moving the marbles around. This again came from some hand movements that Lindsay did.
The final question was, "How do you prepare for a match?" She tugged on my ears, so I said, "I tug on my ears to get my thoughts flowing, and then I channel the power of the universe, and finally, I make sure my weapon is hidden behind the board."
Finally, we did one more round of Experts Panel, with Ciara as a librarian, Fran as a trucker and Gerry as a designer. They all did a great job of staying in character. My favorite responses were Fran's to "What do you get your mother for her birthday?" She said, "A cup of coffee and a dozen donuts."
Ciara's response to "When should a child start reading" was great: "Basically, as soon as you cut the umbilical cord, you put a book in their hand."
And Gerry got really excited about a question about what you should do to redecorate your home, where he kept emphasizing "Lots of light", making huge sweeping arms gestures. "And an atria."
Ciara jumped in, "Atrium." Everybody laughed.
Afterwards, Dave surprised us all by confessing that it had been his first time teaching a class. None of us would have guessed: it was that good. He had us do the, "Yay us!" that we'd been doing in a circle at the end of class. Then we filled out our evaluation sheets.
He invited us to join him afterwards to hang out a little while at a bar down the street called Bards. I was supposed to meet up with The Gryphon and bring him Chinese food to his gaming group session. I called him on the cell phone and let him know what was up, and he was cool with it.
In addition to Dave and me, the group included Ciara, Geoff, Carol, Marlene, Ricardo and Lori. We took a couple tables in the back, ordering dinner as well as drinks. I actually finally told Geoff that for the first week or so, I got nervous every time I had to do a scene with him. Even though he's not intimidating, he's really tall and he has a way of looking at you attentively, waiting for you to speak, that only made me more nervous when I was still getting a feel for things.
We ended up with a really strange phenomenon. First two violinists sat at the table next to us, and then more and more joined them until there was a group of about five musicians playing Celtic music. It was so surreal and sort of funny; I felt like we were in a sketch.
I forget what I said, but I must have cracked a joke, and Ciara exclaimed, "I love you. I just want to take her home. The things that come out of this girl's mouth!" She also told me that she'd checked out my web site and found out we share a lot of interests. I was glad to hear this, because I thought she was a pretty cool person. She's about 10 years younger than me but very mature when it comes to ideas about her career in acting and music, and she's got a really wicked sense of humor.
It's always great when I can make people laugh. Some people are easier, such as my sister, and others are more difficult, such as my mom. I think it's because Mom always needs to be the funny one in the room.
I talked to Dave and Ciara for awhile. Dave and I shared memories of Penn State, since we're both alums. Turns out he was also a School of Communications major, but he started about the time I graduated, which was why we didn't cross paths. He was initially a film major, and if he'd started just a year earlier, he would probably have met some of my best friends from college, including The White Rabbit and my College Roommate.
Before we all left we exchanged contact info. I gave everyone my card, and so did Ciara and Carol. Those of us who had My Space pages promised to connect.
Ciara suggested that some of us get together to go to a ComedySportz show, so I think that we'll actually end up doing that. Ricardo actually said that he's happy to do that, because he doesn't know many people in the U.S. yet. He moved here from South America only about a year ago.
We all left at pretty much the same time, walking off in different directions. Lori gave me a ride to the parking garage where I was parked, and we chatted happily on the way. She reminds me of an old friend of mine from childhood, with her sunny outlook and boundless energy.
of Celtic musicians still ringing in my ears, I hummed all the way home.
Can't wait until the intermediate class starts this fall!
2005 by Alyce Wilson