I exited the hookah bar in my ivory formal dress, looking for an available restroom on Fry Street in Denton, TX. I stepped into The Tomato; theirs was also out of order. Returning to Fry Street, I tried the sandwich shop next door.
And there she was.
‘Do you want a puppy?’
A dreaded, hipster couple had found two abandoned puppies wandering the streets; the man held a sleeping, snuggly, tiny beige and chestnut bundle.
‘No, I can’t,’ entering the bathroom.
But when I emerged, without hesitation I scooped Riley up in my arms and walked back to the hookah bar to rejoin my group.
We are introduced to our first fellow improvisers in class. Together, we learn what it means to build trust, collaboration, and comedy. We begin to craft, learn to think and play, learn to embrace the ensemble and form a strong team. Through our yesses to each other again and again, we build muscles, magic, strong bonds, and a life-giving relationship. We are shaped as individuals every time we say yes, discovering and creating parts of ourselves in this crucible of growth and transformation.
She rarely needed a leash on our walks; Riley walked beside me without straying. She joined me at work, a warm, attentive, present, well-behaved, host to all she encountered. Riley knew how to communicate her needs with nothing but a long gaze. When approaching our apartment at the end of a walk, a simple ‘Do you want to race?’ made her sprint away towards the door; if I didn’t start sprinting too, she paused, looked back, and waited for me.
Improvisers build deep intimacy in the classroom, coaching, and on stage. The work of play takes trust and supportive listening, we pay attention to every detail and every absence, building the groupmind that allows us to accomplish and create without having to discuss or explain the game.
She couldn’t support herself on her back legs, our days of walking and running were long past. She and I had a pepperoni pizza, a rotisserie chicken, and mashed potatoes for our last full day together; she nibbled, tasted and licked her lips with delight, staring deeply into my eyes with every bite. We both seemed to know what tomorrow meant.
I held her as the light faded from her soulful eyes and she fell into a deep sleep.
Schedules get busy, goals change, people move, the troupe dismantles, class ends.
Is it possible to build the same intimacy and bond with someone else? Who do we become without you here co-creating with us?
If we want to keep doing improv, we must find it within us to choose a new team, new partners, new ensembles in which to create. But how do we build the trust and the cohesion again?
With scene partners and soulmates, we can idealize, fearing that the loss of them includes the loss of ourselves. Something goes with them, held sacred in the space of memory. But as Glennon Doyle once wrote, ‘we are the builder, not the sandcastle’. What we built did not arrive to us this way; we co-created it together.
To build anew involves the grief of releasing what you spent time, tears, heart, and sweat creating, the energy to create, the openness to co-create with new people, and the willingness to start small. We invest again based on potential and practice, not on perfection. With whom can be built trust, nurture resilience, and practice collaborative creativity? With whom can we face conflict, choose laughter, and support shared meaning and values?
Improv reminds us that no matter who we’re building with, we’re always in the process of co-creation. Whether with soulmates or scene partners, it matters most how we show up and how we honor each other. In the face of loss and change, improv brings us again and again to the practice of building anew, shaping us into collaborative and creative building partners for ourselves and one another.
Evey McKellar is a Level 5 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso.