Improv -- better with the socially disadvantaged?

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Improv -- better with the socially disadvantaged?

Postby Mo Daviau » December 22nd, 2005, 1:14 pm

A few days ago, my 14-year-old brother called to tell me that he had been rejected from the high school league improv troupe San Diego has. I put him up to the whole thing, of course, and I was a member of one of the h. s. league teams in San Diego when I was not much older than he.

After giving him the whole "at least you tried/take classes/there will be other opportunities to do improv the rest of your life" pep talk, I realized that I was his age when I was first rejected from an improv troupe. It was at my junior high, and it was most definitely NOT what you or I would call an improv troupe. It was "popular kids wearing matching t-shirts reading 'LICENSED 2 ACT' prancing around doing lip synchs and playing Taxi." I would like to state here that I attended Tenaya Middle School in Fresno, CA, the same jr high that K-Fed Spears attended. It's in a part of Fresno where everyone either is rich or pretends to be rich. A lot of hairspray and badly-cut jeans, with the attitude to match. And to make matters worse, it was 1989. You can imagine how awful everyone looked.

This was the same year that Gilda Radner died. The drama teacher at the school, a heavily made-up woman in her forties with helmet hair who had spawned the uber-popular captain of the high school football team, made no bones about how DEVASTATED she was about Gilda's passing, pasting the drama room (where only the popular kids were allowed to have lunch, while the likes of me was relegated to eating with the other unpopular kids in an unpopular location at the school, often the library) with photos of her cut from spreads in People magazine. It would take me years to realize what a phony, insulting gesture this was. Had this woman known Gilda in any other way than comic idol, she would have thought of her as a lesser, the same way she saw me as unfit to do improv. I was wildly unpopular, a gangly adolescent mess on stick legs, slowly having her confidence snuffed out by peers and teachers alike. But I knew what improv was and that I wanted to do it. But in the eyes of Fresno circa '89, I could not be allowed to take the stage because I wasn't cute enough.

As the years went by and I returned to improv first in high school after my family moved to San Diego, and and again in my late twenties in Austin, I realized another thing: popular kids make the worst improvisers. The great improv comes from the dorks, the nerds, the arty kids, and the science geeks, those forced by society to take on the role of the observer. If you're in a position of power, socially, then why would you bother to observe anyone else? It seems that there is no reason for a universally-adored person to study people, notice a range of nuanced emotion, body language, etc., all the ingredients that make great improv. A lifetime of constantly hearing YES is no way to develop a creative mind.

I don't know who among us was popular in their childhoods. I don't want to know, really, as in adulthood all that shit stops mattering anyway. I just want to vent about this. And I also want you to know that this drama teacher woman actually had a gaggle of 12 and 13 year old girls dress up as "Palmer Girls" with the make-up, the black dress, and the blank stare, while a boy lip synched "Addicted To Love" in front of them at the talent show.

I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible.
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Mo Daviau
 
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Joined: August 11th, 2005, 3:14 pm
Location: Austin then Ann Arbor, MI (as of 8/11)

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