I enjoyed a wonderful week-long workshop with Ruth Zaporah, founder of Action Theater. It felt so good to play!
I’ve done improvisation for many years since I lived in Chicago in the mid-90s. There I learned Chicago-style improv comedy. Basically, improvised scenes that hung together in the form of short improvised plays. Very narrative driven. The Chicago scene is so saturated and deep that folks were really doing some interesting experimentation with that form of improv. A group that I founded, an all-woman troupe named RED, began playing with using bigger physicality on stage, bringing a more visual element to the staging of the traditional improv comedy form.
Flash forward a few years in San Francisco. Did a bit of improv there, mostly building on what I’d done in Chicago. I even taught (with the illustrious Becky Haycox) and starting directing an incredibly gifted, intelligent group of improvisors THE FROOKIES. During that time, one of my students and a movement teacher exposed me to this strange and wonderful thing called Action Theater. It was physical, fun, funny, engaging, beautiful and much less verbose than the improvisation I was used to. From there I explored a little of that, a little contact improv and opened up to this new world of movement improvisation. I also picked up a copy of Ruth’s brilliant book Improvisation of Presence
Flash forward to Portland 2008. A woman I met on Alberta Street, who teaches an improvisation class, named Mary Rose emailed out the word that she was bringing Ruth Zaporah out for a workshop. I was thrilled! I talked it over with hubby and we scrounged up the cash to enroll me. I was nervous because I haven’t improvised in ages. I thought, what if I suck? What if I do something stupid? What if I forgot how to improvise? Damn you gremlin, get out of my head!
Turns out it was still in me after all. Ruth was an amazing teacher. The time was limited, but she managed to give us some great stuff to chomp on. The two big concepts I came away with was engaging the eyes and really connecting with the visceral sensory experience. I was pretty tired all week, from work and being a bit under the weather. But I think that actually helped me stay out of my chattering, gremlin head.
Here are some snippets of what I got from Ruth:
– “Each action is a manifestation of a truth we have inside.”
– “I position myself so that everything happens beautifully without me.” – This is what how she describes the improv “fairies.”
– “The soup of awareness.”
– “Have patience to stay with something for a long time.”
And just as exciting is the fact that I’ve met some amazing folks through the workshop. And this sunday, along with some of my pals, I’m headed to Mary and Domeka’s Jumping Off Place for some fun explorations!