“Let’s go around and everyone say their name, where they’re from, why they’re here.”
“I’m Becca, I’m here by accident, I thought I was taking a writing class and I’m absolutely terrified to be here.”
It’s astonishing how quickly you get comfortable with a group of strangers when you’re all thrust into the same uncomfortable situation. The writing class I’d signed up for a month ago was cancelled due to low enrollment, and the center had called me a week prior, asking if I’d like to take another class that was at the same time on the same days, but would be improv in the morning, and writing in the afternoon. I said No the first three times the admission’s person asked. But at the last minute, right before hanging up, I’d blurted, “Wait! Okay I’ll do that one. The improv/writing one!” I figured 1.5 days of writing instruction was better than none at all. And hey, maybe I could just be late to the improv mornings, or make up some excuse to only come in the afternoon. After all, I’d already booked and paid for the hotel and train ride. I’d been looking forward to this. But there was no way in hell I was interested in doing improv.
By the time I realized, on the first day of class, that I’d been accidentally put into a third class option–the all day improv class–I’d already emotionally bonded with my five fellow hostages and couldn’t imagine starting over the next day with brand new people who hadn’t traversed my awkward dance activity with me. Hadn’t encouraged me through a round of gibberish. I’d already learned important aspects of my fellow weirdos and I didn’t feel right saying, “Um, excuse me Second City people… I think there’s been a mistake. Please put me in the other class where I’m going to have to bond with new people who already bonded with their own people.”
There was some legitimate panic. I’m not an actress. I can’t even lie very well. I was making the decision to stay in this class so far out of any comfortable activity I’d ever decided to take up, but I was terrified to do it.
One of the first things our improv teacher for the weekend told us was, “You are all going to be okay.” I’d be lying if I said I believed him when he said this. I was pretty sure that if there was such a thing as dying of embarrassment or discomfort, even if no one had died of that yet, I would be the first person in history it would happen to. Medical people for years to come would study it, the Becca Syndrome. Poor lady died in the middle of a black and green film room that was inexplicably air-conditioned in the middle of fucking winter in Chicago while trying to come up with a new, funny way to portray the sad side of a fish market. The textbooks would offer a little picture of me in the corner in black and white, looking, myself, like a dead fish too petrified to move. Medical students reading about my tragic demise would laugh to cover up their own insecurities, the worries they had about their own mortality when facing uncomfortable situations in their sought-after profession. What if an elderly person or a baby pooped on them? What if a really ill person pre-quarantine spewed blood all over their face? What if they were asked a hard question during medical rounds that they couldn’t answer or were asked to perform a procedure that, done wrong, would surely kill the patient? Would they die of Becca Syndrome?!?
Luckily, Sean, our instructor, was right and everything was okay. We all made it through the three days without any of us dying. There were two or three times I thought, this would be a good time to burst into tears, but luckily, I was able to refrain from doing that as well.
So, in the absence of a desire to move classes, and with a newfound sense of camaraderie with my classmates, I stayed. I decided to see how this all works, this improv bit. How do people get onstage and somehow, coherently create one scene together on the fly. How is this sausage link made. How do people become so comfortable with themselves onstage. Maybe you had to be born with certain criteria that I lacked and always would… but maybe there were tricks you could learn. Maybe by being here, I would learn how to let go a little. It was worth a shot, anyway.