Playing Through?

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Playing Through?

Postby jillybee72 » June 19th, 2011, 11:39 pm

When the shit hits the fan and something awful happens, do you take time off improv or do you play through?

I remember getting the news right before a show that my grandma was dead, and getting the news at intermission that my step-father was dead, and in each case I was super-glad to have the show to focus on.

Longer term, when my step-mother died and I had to be out there helping figure everything out, I sat in on a show with Shaun Landry and Todd Stashwick, and a bunch of shows with ComedySportz-San Jose. I felt such relief and gratitude, I absolutely needed somewhere to be creative and expressive.

I've also seen people do horrible painful improv in their troubled times that wasn't good for anybody. I remember a friend getting a divorce, and it made his improv as dark and painful as his life.

What say you, what's your tendency? Do you take time off or do you dive in?
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Postby Alex Gray » June 20th, 2011, 12:30 am

I got into Improv here in Austin at the lowest point in my life. It, and the wonderful people in this community, have been instrumental in what success I have had at moving onward and upward. I have had bad nights when I considered not doing a show but every time I force myself to make good at my commitment and every time I am glad that I did.
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Postby mpbrockman » June 20th, 2011, 2:13 am

For what it's worth - I was in a hotel room in Minneapolis the night my mother died. It was 200AM and I had just gotten back from a dueling piano gig. I got to say a few words to her and tell her I loved her (I don't know if she heard me or not). Then about 45 minutes later my dad called me back to tell me she was gone.

I did my show the next night (albeit fortified by several double whiskeys). I had to leave the stage for a "restroom break" (read "bawl") when my partner played an Elton John song that my mom particularly liked, but I pretty much held it together and no-one was the wiser except for my partner (who I had given a heads up to).

Point? Dunno. I would guess it varies by individual. I myself needed to try to maintain some semblance of normality and that meant putting my game face on and going to work. What else was I going to do, sit in my hotel room alone and cry?

However, I had given myself an "out" by informing my partner and asking him to tell me if my performance wasn't up to par. If he had said, "Michael, it's obvious that you're an emotional wreck" - then I could have bailed knowing I did my professional best given the circumstances.
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Postby Jon Bolden » June 20th, 2011, 11:11 am

I think it depends on the particular situation and it can sometimes surprise you when it's too late.

About half an hour before my "Boys of Summer" show with Girls Girls Girls, I received a text message from my Mom about my brother being in the hospital. She had tried to call me a few times but I had been warming up. He's 100% healthy now and it turned out to be nothing, just so you know. At the time I thought I would be OK for the show, but I started to feel weird and negative during our second warm-up. I vowed after to shake it off and just push through the show and I firmly believed I could do this.

But... during the show, I found myself not listening, being distracted, and drawing blanks. It affected my performance, but not the show tremendously (I was surrounded by super experienced and talented improvisers). It also helped that the format put you in a more reactive position than proactive.

So I learned a few things, it's good to push through, but sometimes there's nothing you can do about your headspace. I also feel like it makes me somewhat human to be affected by life during performances. I don't ever want to feel like a robot and that a show is more important than my mental well-being.

My situation was also more uncommon in that I was the featured "boy" of the show and therefore couldn't exactly bail without a lot of notice. I would imagine this would be true for small cast troupes, or something like Batman where several characters are predetermined.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » June 20th, 2011, 11:48 am

the closest example i can think of is when i was filming a movie in Elgin. after we'd wrapped for the day, i saw i had a bunch of missed calls and messages from my dad. i was driving back to Austin and called him back and got the news that my grandfather had just died. i started bawling the entire drive back. i cried and sulked and talked with my family on the phone off and on throughout the day and rest of the night.

i was on set next morning, ready to dress like a giant chicken again and get abused by mimes and 12 year olds. not just because it was a professional concern, but because by God, i NEEDED to.

i've often felt that comedy and absurdity are how we deal with tragedy and pain. so when i'm going through hard times, i try to use it as much as possible in my acting, in my improv, in my writing, etc. unless i genuinely feel ground down to the point i don't want to move, i NEED to be on that stage...hell, in those times, i probably NEED someone to drag me on to a stage. ;)
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Postby sandray » June 20th, 2011, 1:14 pm

Improv brings tons of joy to my life it has helped me through the tough times.

When I started my first ever level 1 class at the Hideout, my best friend since 10th grade high school passed away from cancer. Going to class, even to my last class before I left out of town for her funeral, helped me get through. As a result, I kept pushing forward and took allot of improv classes. That has also helped me through allot of other heavy and serious moments in my life.

However, earlier this year I lost my dad and I had to take a break. I felt like I wasn't ready to play. A couple of months later though I signed up for a class and that helped me to at least start healing.

I guess you won't know until you are at that road.
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Postby Marc Majcher » June 20th, 2011, 2:29 pm

"You are troubled? Good! Troubled is the perfect time for training. When you are dancing in the meadow with your dolls and kittens, this is not when fighting happens... You are not here! You are with your trouble! If you’re with your trouble when fighting happens... more trouble for you."
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Postby Spots » June 20th, 2011, 4:30 pm

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lz_DAcu-CcQ#t=139s[/youtube]Fast forward to 2:20.

I moved back to Austin in 2009 and was taking improv classes. That New Years, I ran into my old roommates at a house party. It was ten minutes until the countdown and I asked them about our mutual friend.

"So where's Justin? Does he still live in Austin?"

"You don't know?" they said, shocked.

"What? Is he dead?" I laughed.

The serious looks on their faces instantly changed the energy of the New Years celebration. Yes. He had died two years previous in a horrible car wreck. At first I was in denial, I thought it was a joke.

Then I spent the rest of the night crying & feeling helpless.

It took me months to grieve, and to deal with a bit more than just news of his death. Turns out he had secrets. But I used my improv classes to stay focused. I did a few Maestros during this dark time. But I still sheltered myself to beat the pain.

More than anything I felt a world of guilt for not being there for my friends when it had happened. They all live in New York now. They moved together out of solidarity to grieve together. To move on. They had been in so much pain that they each took it for granted the news would reach me.

I couldn't lie to myself when I was grieving. He was invading my dreams. Furthermore I was grieving alone. Everyone had moved on. I couldn't wish the pain away. But I gave mysself a path in which to concentrate my anxiety, my sorrow, my guilt, everything. And I just held onto the faith that I would ultimately work through it.

I focused on improv, and working through bad habits.

Most of 2010 I wanted to be alone. I didn't want to show weakness. But one day I made a really good friend, which led to 20 or so other good friends and I've been clinging onto those people for dear life. I've gotten better at sharing and listening. Now I enjoy surrounding myself with those people, and I know they would be there for me. I have their backs and they have my back. I know the true meaning of the word community.

Improv was my refuge, and I have it to thank for being where I am now emotionally.
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Postby jillybee72 » June 20th, 2011, 10:37 pm

Aw, Jesse, everybody, these are amazing stories.

Joe Bill and I did a show once, the first we ever did in Kansas City. My friend was having a stem cell transplant and his niece was desperately ill. Something about it made us little soldiers together and the improv was this elevated place where human experience could be celebrated.
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Postby AmyA » June 21st, 2011, 12:52 am

Improv is my best antidote to the chronic pain problems I have. I can feel like crap and go to a rehearsal or show and feel like a new person. It's kind of amazing really.

When my son had surgery last fall though, I knew I couldn't commit to shows during that time because I was completely wrung out. I also wanted to be fully available to respond to what he needed, with no distractions. So I hunkered down for a bit then was ready to play again in a couple of weeks. I did sneak out one night and sing the entire Carpenters catalog in a karaoke room with a friend. That was good.
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Postby mpbrockman » June 21st, 2011, 8:02 am

Spots wrote: The serious looks on their faces instantly changed the energy of the New Years celebration. Yes. He had died two years previous in a horrible car wreck.


Oh man, that sucks. I had a similar experience in Memphis once. I went there to do a series of shows and ran into some friends on my break including the husband of a girl I was once good friends with. I asked him in all innocence, "So, how's Tina?". Everyone looked at the floor and he just looked crushed.

Yah, she had died a few months earlier in a car accident.

Hard to get back up on stage and play and sing with your foot stuck in your mouth and your fingers jammed in your tear ducts.
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Postby valetoile » June 21st, 2011, 9:16 pm

Last year I took a break from inprov for a month, just because it happened that I didn't have any shows I had comitted to, so I didn't take on any new commitments. It turned out to be a terrible month. In addition to ending a relationship and getting terribly sick, then getting everyone at my birthday party violently ill as well, I felt the most severe depression of my life. It didn't seem to be directly related to anything going on ( I had had much worse breakups and much worse health problems in my life) and I felt helpless to address it. I thought it was the beginning of a downward spiral of mental health.

Luckily, it cleared up on it's own within a couple of months. Since then I have been through bad things happening to me, terrible heartache and upsetting things, but haven't felt nearly that level of doom or helplessness. Having a job to go to where I like the people I work with and don't face a lot of stress has helped immensely. And getting to create and explore on stage and in rehearsals with people I love and trust has been invaluable. I always feel better after doing a show or teaching a class, no matter how resistant I felt to it beforehand.
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Postby bradisntclever » June 21st, 2011, 11:46 pm

I've noticed a strange side effect from improvising after something pretty bad has happened in my personal life. Normally, I'm the kind of improviser that has a little voice in the back of my head that tries to prevent me from taking too many risks. When I first started, it was a really loud voice. After years, it's much quieter, but still there all the time. When I was dealing with a pretty bad breakup, that breakup was pretty much all I could think about offstage. When I got onstage, improv was such a wonderful distraction that I couldn't possibly think about it. More importantly, that voice was GONE. It just vanished. I had some of my best shows to date and grew a tremendous amount from simply not caring about the huge (to me) risks I was taking in shows at the time. The voice eventually came back, but experience has dropped it to more of a whisper.

During that time, it seemed like the only place I didn't feel miserable was onstage. I can't thank improv enough.
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Postby sara farr » June 22nd, 2011, 12:48 am

Improv helped me beat a depression I fell into during & after a string of sad events in my life. I discovered improv -- started it for "fun" -- and it REALLY jumped started my serotonin levels to have something playful to participate in that encouraged me to start taking risks again.

I've never had to back out of a show due to a family emergency, but I know I would if it came up... but after things were dealt with, I'd come see shows to get cheered up.
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Postby ratliff » June 26th, 2011, 3:15 am

Maybe slightly off topic: I can't remember whether it was the Compass or Second City at this point, but at the top of their first show after the JFK assassination, Del Close walked out and addressed the audience with something like, "We won't ask what you're doing here if you don't ask what we're doing here." Presumably their reasons weren't that different.
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