The Fear

White water rafting 1999...I need to channel this girl for improv class
White water rafting 1999
…I need to channel this girl for improv class

We have our individual mid-point meetings with Jay Lay. We each get literally 60 seconds alone with him so I don’t get too much feedback. “How do you feel with class so far?” Well, I love it, I’m learning more than I ever did before and you’re pushing me to do things I’ve never done.

Here’s an example. We do this exercise one day. All stand around in a circle and one-by-one, each person holds an invisible ball. When you first hold the ball, you don’t know what kind of ball it is yet, so you move it in your hands, make it big, make it small, eventually start to feel what ball you’re holding, and show us with space work what type of ball it is.

OK, now I have to explain space work. (I could go off on so many tangents with improv). Space work is what you’re doing in a scene physically. You should never just stand around talking. Do an activity. For example: folding laundry, washing dishes, shoveling snow, planting flowers, sewing a sweater, etc. I’m actually sure I already explained this, so consider it a recap. The scene should always start with both people doing space work. Based on what your doing and what you see your partner doing, you can begin the scene.

Back to the invisible ball. Once you’ve established in your mind what type of ball you’re holding, use it in a way that the group can announce what type of ball it is without you telling them. Once we’ve figured it out, pass the invisible ball to someone else. So, I’m nervous, as usual. People are catching the ball and immediately making it a certain type of ball. Jay is totally calling them out. “No, stop. You already knew before you got the ball that it was going to be a baseball. Right?” Yes. “You don’t know what it is yet. This is called the gray area. Where you have no idea what you’re doing or what’s going to happen and you just have to be in the moment. It’ll come to you.” The gray area is fucking scary. It didn’t used to be, when I was a kid. I also didn’t call it the gray area then. I called it “playing.” I made up shit all the time and imagined things that weren’t there. Now, I don’t like to not know what I’m doing. I’m a planner. But if I’m going to learn, I have to do this exercise right. The ball keeps being passed around and I keep thinking of balls I could do. No, stop planning. I’m yelling at myself in my head every time I think of a ball. In past improv classes, I did not embrace the gray area. If I could think of something before hand that I could plug into the scene, I would, and that’s not good improv.

Finally the ball is tossed to me. I close my eyes and start moving around this invisible thing in my hands. Making it big then small. “Do you know what it is??” No. “Good.” I keep moving it around. There’s nothing in my hands. There is no ball! Jay gives some tips as I’m going. “Sometimes it helps to think of the temperature of the ball, like if it feels cold, oh, now I’m holding a bowling ball. Or you can think of the texture of it.” I keep going. And then I start to feel it. That rubbery, bumpy surface. Now I see it. It’s red. And I feel it – light. I have my ball! I can’t even explain how excited I am in this moment that I really did the exercise the way it was supposed to be done. I toss the ball high in the air and catch it. Then bounce it on the ground and it comes right back up into my hands. I place it on the ground. Back up for a running start, and give it a good kick. A kickball. Everyone gets it. That was awesome.

Here’s the problem, though. That took me forever! At one point, Jay told me I had to think of a ball at some point. That’s how long I was holding it. In a scene, you’re in that gray area, and you have to know what it is in an instant. That’s impossible. Well, it isn’t, but at this point, that’s what it feels like.

On the positive side, I did sit in the gray area and let it consume me. It was terrifying and freeing at the same time. There’s hope for me yet!

*Lily Allen

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