Is doing improv in L.A. a cliche? Sure. But it offers something we could all use more of — possibilities.
Lost Angeles is a column about getting lost — and found — on solo expeditions in the city.
I’m really into the idea of parallel universes. Blame it on discovering the Glitch in the Matrix Reddit board late one night. (This, by the way, is one of my all-time favorite posts.)
It’s a pleasurable thought exercise: The idea that, at this very moment, there’s another you, living a slightly different life. A you who lives in Venice and is an agent; a you who lives in Los Feliz and just sold your first screenplay; and yet another who’s a botanist in Antarctica, studying lichen.
In this multiverse theory, these versions of you aren’t fantasies or future possibilities; they all exist concurrently. And each you inhabits a corresponding world which is slightly — or wildly — different. One in which Trump never won; in which Katrina never happened; in which Bernie Sanders is currently president.
The idea of parallel universes sounds crazy, or like a sci-fi flick. But this fascination with what could be — who we could be — is the most natural, human thing ever. Who would we be if we took that new job? Made that career switch? Fell in love? Moved to Oaxaca? Started surfing? And the portal to enter these worlds is especially ripe in the new year.
We all have our own ways of playing with alternate realities. Reading fiction, watching movies and daydreaming are tried and true. There’s also meditation, visualization, prayer and vision boarding. But my favorite, perhaps, is improv.
I’d had “do improv” scribbled in at least five journals before I finally signed up for a class a couple years ago. After considering the better-known Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Groundlings, I decided to go with Improv LA, because it seemed non-competitive and chill. I and eight other classmates every Saturday afternoon at the Clubhouse in Los Feliz. It’s a non-profit theater run by volunteers, in the same strip mall as JONS and Fatburger. (Also, they have donation-based shows there almost every night. Most have free beer.)
I found myself playing angry characters a lot. I was angry, I guess, and it felt good to let it out. It was cathartic, trying on these different personalities.
None of us in the class really had professional acting aspirations; we were just doing it for fun. One guy was a professional poker player. Others included a PhD grad student, a graphic designer, a psychologist, an on-set stylist and a few others — all truly brilliant and kind and funny. (Except for one dude. There’s always gotta be one.)
When I took the class, I was not in what I’d call an optimistic headspace. I’d show up week after week in the same running shirt and shorts, despite not having exercised in months. I looked like shit. But it was like, fine.
Our teacher, Shaun, was amazing. He was super supportive, super kind. I later found out that he did hip-hop improv and was insanely talented at it, even though he never mentioned it in class. (When I finally went to see his group, 808, perform, I have never felt so inspired by the richness of life.)
Shaun eased us into prompts, and the resulting scenarios ended up being so divorced from reality (“monsters from outer space pulling off a drug heist”) that any attempt at coolness was futile. Skill, too, was rendered meaninglessness. There was only one unspoken rule: the weirder, the better.
And you had to commit. Whether you were the one to create a world or you were stepping into someone else’s, you had to accept their premise completely. Only then could you participate in it.
I found myself doing weird shit, like pretending to be a cat making espresso. I found myself playing angry characters a lot. I was angry, I guess, and it felt good to let it out. It was cathartic, trying on these different personalities.
Imagining what is not yet real is a valuable exercise, it turns out. It’s what Martin Luther King Jr. did. And Gandhi too.
What does this have to do with parallel universes and new year’s resolutions? I’m not totally sure. But I think trying on different realities is important. Just as you’d try on a coat you’re thinking of buying, or maybe imagining yourself with a certain haircut. And improv is one way to do that.
Imagining what is not yet real is a valuable exercise, it turns out. It’s what Martin Luther King Jr. did. And Gandhi too. All of us, in order to bring what we want into our lives, are tasked with this.
So I guess the question is, what do I want to imagine for 2020?
In the still-new year, I think about all these things. What is the most fantastic future I can imagine for myself? How do I act as if? In this world of anti-everything, what do I want to say ‘yes’ to? Who is that alternate self I want to be? What is she doing right now? And how do I envision this alternate reality for myself and for the world when, every day on Twitter, I am presented with a dumpster fire of sad factory farm pics and political idiocy?
Improv is one way I found to shortcut the tyranny of logic. Maybe it’s something else for you. Audit an architecture class. Pick up a book on Antarctica. Look at pictures of icebergs. Get a haircut.