I can’t say that in the past year I’ve spent nigh-homeless – sleeping on an air mattress in a flea-ridden house on the verge of collapse, getting rejected for jobs I’m grossly overqualified for, and counting my comatose life by the week instead of by the day – I’ve never considered moving back to La Crosse. Sure, I would have been really unhappy and felt really defeated, but every so often it felt like defeat, at the very least, would bring a little stability and familiarity. As much as I find a great deal of fault with it, La Crosse is my home.
Yet there was one point which I reminded myself of every time these regressive thoughts crept into my depressed brain. It pretty much became the last line of defense that kept me out here in Washington even in my most frustrated lows.
La Crosse doesn’t have improv. So I can’t go back.
I found improv on the day after I arrived in Bellingham, though it would be a month before its importance to me took shape. On the second day, my new roommates showed me around my new city’s fantastic downtown, where I wandered around a bit wide-eyed. We drifted into a small coffee shop, and everyone else in my group ordered things. Since I don’t drink coffee and don’t care about measly café food, I lingered off near the wall, thumbs in pockets, and I stared at the giant block of fliers upon it.
There was one poster which I gravitated toward, a mockery of Pulp Fiction’s cover art in which Uma Thurman’s hip sneer replaced by another girl’s silly smirk. Clearly the show it was hyping seemed like something that I’d be into (especially if they brought out the Gimp), but as I was still overwhelmed from crossing half the country it flew over my head. We left the café and wandered across the street to a record store, where I found a Wesley Willis album for sale – a clear and time-honored indication that good things were in store for me.
A few weeks later, the poster and I would again cross paths. One thing I’ve long wanted to start doing is performing stand-up comedy, but I hadn’t been able to find a consistent open mic in La Crosse to work on it. One of my goals in coming to Washington was to find a comedy venue and start performing, and a quick Google search in this pursuit brought me to the place advertised by Fake Uma. This would turn out to be the best Google search I’ve ever done.
Discovering improv at the Upfront Theatre was the same sort of lightning bolt to the brain that happened to me when I started writing these sorts of things and seeing them in print in the Second Supper. Like, Jesus, I didn’t have my entire life and the rest of the world figured out after college, and there were still plenty of amazing things about myself and said world to find. I found one such game changer during the Upfront show on the Thursday before my improv education began. The hour and a half of people on stage, just making shit up, was both hilarious and a serious revelation.
I’ve described the way I felt watching that show the same way to a few people, and a year into improv hasn’t dulled the feeling at all. It felt as though I had found my tribe.
I’m big into chaos and goofing off and making things and the eastern religion stripes of nihilism, and improv satisfies all of these sensibilities. It’s something that I both knew from the start I’d be great at, and it’s a process which has made me get over myself and work really hard to get better. Improv has made me proud of failure. It makes me less paranoid and insular and frustrated. It makes me a far better writer (when I stop being lazy or depressed and actually write). It taught me to get over my own agendas. It has made me far more brilliant.
Improv has been the one consistently good thing I’ve had going in the past year. Sometimes, it was the only good thing.
After a year of classes, I now perform about once every other week in the Upfront’s student portion of its Thursday shows. A group of six of us will go out, get about a half hour of time, and go berserk making shit up. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we’ll say horrible things that derail the scenes, but mostly we destroy the crowd. After just about every show I leave feeling as though I’ve helped to accomplish something amazing. I feel like an architect who makes skyscrapers out of the sky.
This is something I want to keep doing. I don’t care how, or where, or with whom. The Staged Chaos is in my blood and in my future, and that alone has made my adventure worth it.
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