I had been in class only two weeks and Sarah, our teacher, was already urging us to check out the Jam, an opportunity for anyone, DCH student, veteran or novice, even passers-by wandering into the theater, to jump on the stage and try improv for free.
I thought, “OK, I’ll bite, but I won’t get on stage. No way, not yet. Showcase is soon enough.” I went early for the 8 p.m. show (back when the Jam was on Wednesday preceded by the Big Shots show), and by the time the lights went down, the chairs were only half filled. Still, the audience was boisterous. As I laughed through the show, I had a vague impression of people filling in behind me, and I could hear voices coming from the bar area. By the time the show ended, the theater was full.
Then, the real magic happened. The call for the Jam prompted virtually all those folks—more than 50 people—onto the stage. I think I was the only person left in the audience.
A crowded warm-up, then a count off. When the host yelled “Group 3,” most people jumped and headed for chairs. After 15 minutes of fun, another group enthusiastically tackled the stage.
This happened twice more. By then I was exhausted and I had not left my seat. I knew, however, that I could not spend the next Jam in the audience.
The following Wednesday, several classmates came too as did Sarah and Molly, our instructors. With trepidation, Marianne, Emily, and I counted off just like the DCH regulars. My friends took the stage with the first group, and I was proud and ecstatic when they stepped out of the wings.
When my group was called, I found myself surrounded by teachers, veteran troupe members, and people for whom being on stage seemed as natural as standing in line at Starbucks. My back, however, stayed glued to the sidewall. I could think up no initiation that seemed worthy or find an opening into any scene. The lump in my throat was cutting off the oxygen to my brain.
When the tech killed the stage lights, I felt a wee bit defeated. But at least one nut was cracked—I had made it to the stage.
During the break, a friend of Emily’s, a DCH veteran, gently called me out on my shy Jam debut. “Don’t overthink,” he said. “Trust yourself and your group and just get out there.” I had heard those words in class, and I knew he was right. I could not leave the theater that night until I had swallowed that lump in my throat.
The next round, someone mentioned a mother in heaven. Something snapped, I practically ran out on stage, tapped out his partner, and became an indignant mother in heaven complaining about the poor customer service I was getting. (“That guy Peter over at the gate told me to wait here. I’ve been waiting 467 years for someone to tell me where I need to be. I thought this was Heaven, not Purgatory.”)
People laughed. And I will never forget my first time.
The particulars on the Jam:
—Tuesdays at 8 p.m. —Come early, come late. Format is fluid. We’re usually playing until 11 p.m. or later, so just jump in when you get there. —Free - really (but it’s also nice if you buy a drink and some tasty snacks, too). —Try improv, experiment with format and new initiations, work on weaknesses or solidify strengths. —Become more comfortable on stage; use it as a “dress rehearsal” for showcases. —Make friends and experience the culture and community of the Dallas Comedy House. —And, don’t forget to stop in at Open Mic in the Pavlov’s Dogs Theater to enjoy some really fun stand-up.
Up next: Level 1 Showcase.
Carron Armstrong is currently in Level 3 and has been obsessed with improv and DCH ever since she discovered that someone can actually take classes to learn this stuff. She is currently negotiating to purchase the naming rights for the brand new stairs added to ease access to the stages of DCH’s Main Street theaters (Thank you, Amanda and Kyle). During the day, she’s a lawyer.