For months, I’ve been searching for my place in this community. I’ve carved out a small niche here on the blog writing about how improv changes lives - especially mine. I’ve met lots of new friends. But I have lots to learn and a long way to go and I’m impatient to get there, wherever “there” is, probably in part because I recognize that I do not have Betty White’s genes and may not have a 30- or 40-year improv career ahead of me. Yes, I came to improv way too late in life to suit me, so I want to make the most of it.
Some time ago, one of my improv idols, Jimmy Carrane, the genius behind the popular Improv Nerd podcast and blog, posted an excellent article called "When You’re the Oldest One in Your Improv Class." I will not attempt to rewrite this wonderful and inspiring post, and I commend it to you. But you have to promise to read the comments, too.
I read it at a time when I was feeling especially vulnerable about my age and physical limitations. I wondered how my classmates and scene partners felt about playing with someone old enough to be their mother. But mostly, I wondered why I saw so few people with gray hair on stage.
I expect that many of you will protest. Some have. Younger players have told me that they don’t think of older improvisers any differently. Some older improvisers have told me that they either 1) never thought about it, or 2) refuse to consider it. But many others know exactly what I’m talking about. I alluded to this in some blog posts, and some of those around the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) who are 40+ sought me out to lament being pegged as the dad or the grandmother in the scene; how we fear that our scene partners will feel constricted if they can’t count on us to take a pratfall; how out of touch we feel when we don’t know hip-hop lyrics or the names of every energy drink.
I assure you that those perceptions are not restricted to just DCH. Check out the Second City blog post by Rebecca Fons on "What to Expect When You’re a 30+ Improviser."
But you know what? I may not know hip-hop culture, but I remember what it’s like to squeeze a baby out then go through menopause. I know how to find a fallout shelter. I remember who Ronald Reagan’s vice president was. I know that a mid-life crisis isn’t about red sports cars. And, g-damnit, I can do a lot more convincing “old guy with walker” than anybody in my class.
I’m also beginning to understand that improv is not about whether I can jump off the stage or fall to the floor when shot with an imaginary bullet. It’s about being authentic and vulnerable. I have 59 years of authenticity, experience, success, and failure. Maybe I have experienced more than my 24-year-old friends. So, who’s got the better raw materials for making a successful improviser? The answer is it doesn’t matter. We all have our strengths, and we all have our weaknesses. That’s why we work in troupes and aren’t doing stand-up or one-man shows. We are better together than we are apart.
My friends and I are starting to think about our improv futures. I need more coaching, and I want more stage time. There are two avenues for that. One is the Ewing team program. The other is to join or form a troupe. So, naturally, I got to thinking about my middle-aged friends at DCH who want to play like I do, and I wondered, what if we had a troupe of just older folks? Might that provide a unique and enjoyable experience for us and for an audience?
Gary [my husband] and I started quietly talking with people to discover whether there’s any interest in forming a troupe of people over age 40. Everyone we spoke with wanted a piece of the action, and we kept hearing, "Did you ask [so-n-so]? He'll want in." The list grew. It seems we had struck a nerve.
In very short order, our little idea for a troupe seemed to burgeon into a full-fledged project. So this is what we’re going to do. Gary and I would like to invite anyone over 40 to a planning meeting to gauge interest and discuss goals and logistics, like coaching, rehearsal, and format. The meeting will be Saturday, August 8, at 10 a.m. at Jake’s on Henderson (they serve a very nice breakfast). Let me know you'll be there so that we can ensure we have space. Even if you can't make the meeting, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook so that I add you to our list to keep you updated.
Don’t get me wrong. I love playing with my younger friends and always will. And, I want to see what it’s like with just people over 40. Perhaps we will bring a unique voice and style that will resonate with the DCH audience. Maybe more 40+ folks will see us perform and think, “Hey, if they can do that, I can too.”
Carron Armstrong is a Level 4 student in the Dallas Comedy House Training Center, where her husband, Gary, is in Level 2 and her daughter, Haley, is in Level 1. She is pleased that they form DCH’s first improv family dynasty (as far as she knows). Their legacy will be a new house format called the Armstrong.