By Kat Wertzler
I have a lot of feelings about the “fun” of improv. When I heard in classes that the secret is to “just have fun,” or that to get on a team, I needed to “just have fun,” or that I’d be crazy to do this if I couldn’t “just have fun,” improv began to feel less and less … fun. Yes, the fun had helped me get hooked on the dang art form to begin with, but the fun was always a product of how much I cared about it, not the other way around. I began to feel isolated from the Chicago improv community, as if my inability to sustain a carefree persona was a mental block of mine that meant, no matter the honesty or patience or depth I worked to cultivate in my characters, I was not cut out to succeed onstage. (And that feeling is, wow, so fun.)
Now, keep that in mind when I tell you that this show I’m producing, It’s A Date, has been SO FUN. Really. It’s been some of the most easily attainable joy I’ve experienced both watching and performing improv, maybe ever.
For a little background: It’s A Date is a night of two-person improv from people who like each other, and have never before performed two-person improv together. These folks have asked an improv crush (i.e. someone they love to see play, or can’t get enough of being on stage with) to perform in a set with them, and that improv crush has said yes.
When I first had the idea for the show, it was mostly because I had a few improv crushes of my own, whom I wanted an opportunity to play with in a low-key setting, and I thought others might, too. But, after being both a witness to and a part of the joy of the first two shows, I’m beginning to understand that the premise was equally borne out of a more emotional place: I wanted to push against the coolly carefree, and dive into the boldly caring.
I think the best way to describe that motivation is to paraphrase something that resonated a lot with me when I was in Level 3 at CiC, taught by Jorin Garguilo. Jorin started an evening of class sharing his thoughts that, rather than chasing the outcome of fun in a scene or a show, we’re more likely to actually have fun if we instead figure out a way to build ourselves the optimal environment in which fun is even possible for us. A good way to start, he said, is to find and embrace the ways that we, for whatever our individual reasons, care about improv.
Many of my individual reasons for caring about improv align well with the qualities inherent to a two-person set. Good two-person improv, I think, showcases the best parts of improv and humanity, combined. It provides the space for a performance that shines brightest (and is funniest) when the people onstage are generous, caring humans with the patience and desire to authentically connect with each other.
So, it’s no coincidence that the very nature of submitting to It’s A Date requires that each performer genuinely cares about doing that specific set with that specific person. As a direct result, the improv at each show has been vulnerable and affectionate, and has inspired that visceral kind of laughter so rare from an audience of improvisers watching improv.
Though I didn’t quite realize it till now, I’ve gotten to make a show that is my own little optimal environment, with the hope that it might feel liberating to a few other folks, too. And I think—I hope—it has, a little bit. I understand better these days that for a lot of us, trying hard to let go and have fun rarely equals letting go and having fun. We stand on the sidelines of a scene, compulsively laughing with the bottom half of our faces, while anxiety leaks out the top half. We lead with trying to perform “fun,” hoping that the product will amount to impressive skill and audience approval. But, when we lead instead with unabashedly caring about the work we’re doing and the people we’re doing it with, we can end up making each other laugh-cry at 10 p.m. on a Monday night. And that, to me, is the best kind of fun.
The next It’s A Date is on Monday, November 19 at 10pm at The Crowd Theater. Tickets are $5.