Saturday, November 30, 2013

Comedy is Suffering

Putting my head in the mouth of a dragon is how I embraced my 45th birthday this past September. I am that kind of woman. This particular "dragon" takes the form of speaking in front of a group of people and/or performing. I know I am not alone in this fear as giving speeches and performing are terrifying for many. I don't think of myself as riddled with fears, in fact, I consider myself an adventurous brave soul. However, I know I have fears and when I look the other way rather than at them, they only grow in potency. In avoiding this perceived fear, I had been avoiding parts of myself. Those parts of myself can only be discovered by going in. What better way to slay my dragon aka "have fun" through suffering and laughter?  Improv 101 at Upright Citizens Brigade in NYC.

I'm hard pressed to think of a "comedy" film where our hero character or characters aren't constantly running into obstacles mostly created by their actions or perceptions and we the audience, the viewer, watch and laugh at how silly and obvious it all is or sometimes isn't so obvious. Groudhog Day starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott is without a doubt one of my favorite comedies illustrating just how many times it can take to start to wake up to our own crap, our own cycle of suffering. When we don't get what we want, we suffer. Then what? Do we act like a baby and make the people around us miserable, too, like Bill Murray's character? Of course what is funny to the viewer is that the more miserable the character is, the funnier we think he is. In the movies, comedy is suffering and we can relate. Opening up to the lighter moments in life during the darkest moments is an option. This doesn't mean we bypass the sadness, skip over it, suppress it or pretend it doesn't exist. That's the work we can practice on a day to day basis when we slow down enough to look at where our thoughts come from and how we feel.

Every person out there, yeah, you, too, are unique, creative and funny. Your ability to access this part of you, is up to you. 

My experience is that I need to allow myself to feel sadness, let it wash over me and through me. Joy follows sadness and sometimes sadness follows joy. I heard Louis C. K. say that joy is like the antibody for sadness. When sadness is allowed in and felt, the joy is released, too, and they find each other. Antioxidants work in a similar way - they attach to free radicals neutralizing the toxins and then they leave our system. Too many toxins, not enough antioxidants and we have disease. Undigested emotions can come back and bite you when you least expect it. I work with my sadness on a daily basis through meditation and training my mind. The only way in is through. It takes courage to face those heart pounding physically charged emotions of sadness and underneath the sadness sometimes there's some anger lurking around. I've come to understand these feelings as undigested emotions that need looking at. So I sit with it. Welcome the feelings though well aware I'm not about to have a "good time" and feel all warm and cozy inside. Meditation is not a blissful walk in the park; commercialization of the practice has us believing this is meditation. I've been practicing for some years now and have instruction as to how to work with strong emotions. Meditation practice, dharma teachings and psychotherapy have helped me leaps and bounds in discovering my ... sanity dare I say? My mind's "go to" in mediation used to be flooding with sadness or numbing out. Now that I'm more familiar with how I experience these emotions, I have techniques for working with them gently during meditation practice and they have less of a hold on me. This doesn't mean I don't get sad anymore during mediation. I still do, but now I understand it in my body, allow it to be there and soften to the experience. Practicing compassion towards myself, feeling my own pain gently, I have not found to be easy. I'm a human being and a work in progress.
The Sloppy Tim's - Improv 101 Student Class Show

The ability to laugh at myself, is the biggest relief of all. I meditate so that I can understand or at least begin to understand the projections of my mind, my thoughts, and relate to them with some clarity and sanity. This in turn gives me confidence and presence when relating to others and the potential to see what is happening in the moment for what is happening in the moment. To relate to others as human beings with their own stuff going on and navigate how I feel in situations that are awkward, unknown and uncomfortable seems to me is getting into the belly of life and when I feel most alive. Feeling emotions is being alive. This doesn't mean we have to act out on our emotions and be reactive to the anger by screaming or hitting someone or flooding with tears when we loose our favorite hat. When an "ah ha" moment emerges in real time, in real life, we smile at our own little mastery of getting it. The connection to another person along with the validation of self, being understood and understanding right there in the flow of life, the unpredictable moments that have potential for pure chaos but yet somehow we navigate the moment and are able to make sense of it in that moment with another is amazing. Improv classes are ripe with opportunity to discover these connected moments as well as discover when one is blocked and not in the flow.

We learned scene work basic techniques throughout the eight weeks of class. These basic rules help the performer "find the game" in the scene. We are told not to make jokes, just play the game. That's what's fun in life, too, playing and getting along with others and laughter flows. When we try and control situations leaving little room for others ideas, we hit a wall, conversation gets tense, and basically we kill a scene. The party is over.

I love that "don't kill your scene partner" is listed as a "helpful hint" in learning improv technique.

Of course it's improv killing, with some kind of improv object, but if you kill your scene partner for whatever reason, say you don't like how the scene is going so you kill them, this isn't a good way to go about working in class and you don't want that spilling over out into the real world.

Our warm ups before scene work were the best! There were no mistakes to make! If you blundered in the game, most of them were tongue twisters, and speed reactions, everyone cheered. Yay, I goofed up! What a different mind set from our constant bombardment of having to get it right. I really needed this reminder as well as I had to keep reminding myself this class was purely for me and for fun - not a teacher training, or being graded, or to have a financial return in my investment.

Improv 201 I'm in. That dragon isn't quite a scary as she used to be and I didn't need to kill her after all. Thank you Laura Grey and fellow Tuesday morning devoted improvsters for showing up.

The "Final Rule" from the one handout we were given: You can break all of the preceding rules, however, most of the time you'll be better off if you don't. Improv rules tend to be life rules. They exist to make our work look more like life. ~  Ian Roberts

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