"I began doing improv way back when Jesus rode dinosaurs. It was introduced to me in high school drama class and it was the game "Park Bench" that really made me fall in love with the craft. What can I say, I love a character! Then in college, I found out improv could be more than just a bunch of silly games, it could be expanded into long-form.Years later when I moved to New York City, I remember sitting at work one day trying to figure out what to do that night, and for some reason, Wayne Brady singing made-up songs popped into my head and I wondered if there was anything like that in the city. Upon Googling, I found that the PIT was doing a night of made-up musicals and I grabbed a ticket immediately. When I tell you I was blown away by what I saw that would be an understatement. I knew after the 1st few notes of the first opening number that I needed to do musical Improv.
On my way home I did my research and to my luck, the New York Musical Improv Festival at the Magnet Theater was the upcoming weekend and I quickly signed up for a workshop taught by John Bander. I was scared out of my mind, and had no idea what I was doing, but took the workshop anyway. It was incredible. I immediately took the Magnet’s musical improv levels 1-3, and after, was lucky enough to get placed on a Musical Megawatt house team.
After performing a few shows, I realized something changed and NOT for the better. I was on the train home one night after a show trying to figure out what was different now that I was on a team versus before when I was in class. It suddenly dawned on me. The difference was, I wasn’t having fun. Performing didn’t feel like it did in class. It wasn’t joyful, it wasn’t free, it wasn’t fun for me. “Why dat?” I asked myself amidst a serious self-conversation, and I knew why immediately. I was nervous AF and stuck in my head questioning every move I made because I cared too much about what people would think of me. I wanted to be funny and I wanted to be perfect. I had completely forgotten why I was doing improv in the first place - because it was fun and it brought me joy!
Well, I’ll have you know I gave myself a stern talking-to that night!
“Look Bell”, I said. “If you’re not having !#@*-ing fun, you shouldn’t be !#@*-ing doing this, and you’ve been wanting to perform for a !#@*-ing while now right?! So get your sh*t together and for the next show, forget about what you’re “trying” to be and just be. Enjoy all the things you love about improv. Enjoy being silly, enjoy supporting your teammates, and enjoy the !#@*-ing ride. Have fun and be present! THAT’S why you’re !#@*-ing doing this!”
It was exactly what I needed to hear. From then on, I had a BLAST. I was less in my head and more in the moment, and to this day, whether it’s Premiere: The Improvised Musical or ADX [shameless plugs] or whatever show I find myself doing, I remember what I learned that night on the train:
1) I cuss* way too much at myself [*I’m from the South] AND
2) Always be present and always be having fun - the most important improv lesson I ever learned.
Now, I wish I could say I was never in my head again and that I lived happily ever after but improv is a practice, right? So, I’ll continue practicing this lesson as long as I do improv.
And THAT'S the CB tea."