I was in a cat fur party scene in a show recently. I was a cat playing with another cat among other various animal couples on stage.
The only person left on the sidelines walked on and said it was time for the dancing portion of the convention. And then all nine people in the troupe instantly knew to break into the choreographed dance we had performed before our actual improv show – in honor of our namesake St. Patrick’s Day – but this time, we danced it as our animal characters.
I’ve never been more on an improv-love-insanity high than after that show, and that night I shot off an email (subject line: Thank you for putting me on this Ewing Team!!!) to Chad Haught, Dallas Comedy House's (DCH) training director and one of the Ewing judges who cast me in the student troupe.
I gleefully signed off my thank you note with, “I don't get when weird works and when it doesn't, but who cares! I get to do it!!! Thank you, sir!!!!”
I've been doing improv for a year and a half. I've spent the majority of that time questioning everything and trying to Figure. Out. Improv. In Billy Merritt's pirate-robot-ninja categorization of improvisers (explanation one and explanation two), I'm obviously a robot. I don't do anything on stage that hasn't been fact-checked, full-body scanned, and FDA cleared by my robot brain…and because of my inexperience, lack of imagination, and slow processing system, that typically means I don’t do much during improv runs.
And then I made Clover, one of the two DCH student house teams for the March/April term. Where I get to learn how to have fun. Where I get to play with crazy, hilarious people. Where I get to be coached by someone who says, "Weird is always good" and stresses the importance of having fun on stage and supporting the heck out of each other.
Once during notes, upon my flabbergasted response to my coach’s heightening example that nearly short-circuited my robot brain, she also had to remind me, “Christy, you can do anything. It’s improv.”
I cannot tell you how thankful I am for making Clover. My default setting has me standing back and watching and not being weird. Clover stretches and pushes me and puts me out of my comfort zone because I am forced to have fun and be in crazy scenarios due to moves made by my troupe mates that I would never think to make myself as Improviser Christy 1.0.
This band of merry cats masquerading as a Ewing team is exactly what I needed at this juncture of my improv journey. Learning the crunchy improv rules and logical moves is really easy to seek out; learning how to have fun is something else entirely. The more I’m encased in my troupe’s style, the more my deeply-ingrained firewall defenses of “here’s how to think and act” break down and the more I’ll grow as an improviser.
One part of the equation to having fun is a team’s intangibles. A group either has chemistry or it doesn’t. Clover obviously does, and I love my troupe’s energy that makes us uniquely us. The warm-ups alone are one of the highlights of my week. I can’t tell you what goes on because writing it out in print would only make crass the specialness that happens in those five-to-15 minutes of highly-supportive, anything-goes, unjudged wackiness…that will probably involve us behaving as felines at some point during it. Because obviously.
And so I want to thank a) my troupe mates for being their wonderful kitty selves and possessing whatever it is they have within that contributes to our team’s chemistry, b) our coach Amanda Austin for nurturing the group’s fun and weirdness, and c) the Ewing audition judges for not only putting this specific group of people together but also for giving me the opportunity to play with, learn from, and be associated with this particular bunch of crazy, hilarious fur balls. My robot brain can’t think of a better improv gift and training tool I could have received as a budding improviser than being cast into Clover.
I still don’t do much during improv runs, but believe you me my improvising system is being updated constantly. Look out for the release of Improviser Christy 2.0 coming soon!
Christy Vutam is a graduate of the Dallas Comedy House program. One of her life’s ambitions is to conquer improv. She can often be seen on Friday and Saturday nights in the front row, middle-most seat in Tharp Theater with a notepad, pen, and blankie.