At first, I only signed up for classes because it was something I'd been dying to do for years, and finally I was living near a city where, not only was there improv, but I was spoiled for choice. I'd also wanted to perform, but I didn't know anyone yet to make the connections needed to get on stage, so classes at Leela, followed by auditioning with them, allowed me to make those connections.
Two semi-major things happened yesterday that relate to the importance of improv in my life. In the morning, I had my first appointment with a psychologist to be evaluated for autism spectrum disorder. Whilst he wasn't able to give me a formal diagnosis right then, because we ran out of time to go through all his questions, and he wanted to talk to my dad about how I was as a kid, I provided enough information and examples for him to suspect I am likely on the spectrum. Even the fact I handed him five and a half pages of handwritten examples, being as thorough as possible, probably counted as a stroke in the likely ASD column.
The reason this relates to the importance of improv in my life is because, without improv, I would likely still be struggling with all my ASD-related social issues. Improv with Leela has trained me to use eye contact more, and be more aware of it, because of how important it is to make that connection with your scene partner. It's trained me to trust my emotions and experience them. Relish in them.
Performing improv has taken away my usual barriers when talking to new people, because new people approach me to tell me they like my work. I don't have to take that difficult first step to figure out what to say, and I've always been able to have a conversation about interests I'm passionate about - so talking to people about improv, and my experiences with it, is easy.
Improv, and specifically Leela, has also allowed me to find a community of people who accept me for who I am - some personal, some ASD-related. Personal, meaning it's easy to be openly polyamorous, and ASD-related, meaning my tendency to share too much information about personal stuff is actually cherished, and, in fact, the basis for my Leela ensemble shows with YUM. We tell truthful, personal monologues about things people would usually only share with their closest friends. And that is, apparently, why we have a following. People wish they had the bravery to share what we do. Only it's not really bravery for me. It's because I have limited shame around my life experiences and no filter to prevent myself from sharing information that others might consider socially unacceptable. I don't know where that line is. I wish that was something I could teach, because I'd probably be able to make money doing that, given how many people tell me they wish they could do what I do.
YUM promo photo
The second, more significant (at least for me) thing that happened yesterday is that I got a phone call from the producer of Improvaganza, the Hawaii Festival of Improv, Garrick, saying he wanted my self-created improv show, So You Want a Job, to open his festival in October. Not only that, but he informed me that they likely had 12 submissions due to my raving about their festival and promoting it.
The fact my opinion counts for so much that I influenced that many submissions is mind-blowing to me. I've never been someone who could sway people toward my obsessions. I thought my enthusiasm for things tended to be off-putting. But here I am, now, a significant voice in the San Francisco improv community. I guess that's one of the reasons I was made a producer of San Francisco's all-women improv festival, Femprovisor Fest, which was held last weekend at the end of April.
It's a big deal to me to have So You Want a Job accepted. I may have known Hawaii's festival producers for years, but that was no guarantee that my show would get in. It just meant I had a decent idea about what kinds of shows they like to accept. However, not only is this the first improv show I've been involved with to be invited to perform at a festival outside my home state, but I managed to achieve this by submitting a video of only the second performance, and the first with the cast I'm taking with me. It's also the only improv show I have where I created the format myself.
So You Want a Job started as an idea after playing the card game Funemployed with my husband, his girlfriend, and two improvisers, Leila and Sundar. The gist of this game is you get 4 trait cards to use to apply for a randomly selected job, but you're allowed to swap trait cards from your hand with any of the 8 that are in the middle of the table. As we made our way through the game, I found that as an improviser I wanted to challenge myself further, so I ended up playing with just the cards I was dealt. Leila and Sundar followed suit, and eventually we decided it would be fun to somehow turn this into an improv show.
A few weeks later, in the first half of January, I asked the Artistic Director of Leela if she would be open to having us ensemble performers direct mash up shows she was interested in producing. She said yes, and gave me a performance date and rehearsal time slot with little notice to pull everything together, including finding the cast and developing the format. At this point, I'd forgotten I'd wanted to develop a show with the Funemployed cards, but fortunately I remembered it within a couple of hours of being offered the performance slot.
I asked so many improvisers to be part of the show, but only 3 were available for both the show and rehearsal times I had. The small cast, and performance date - Donald Trump's inauguration day - ended up contributing to the development of the show's format. I can't stand Trump, but sometimes you have to fight with humour, and that's what I decided to do. I used Trump's campaign promise to "Bring the jobs back to America" and his experience being on reality TV to create a reality TV style job interview show, interviewing three improvisers at once, picking out traits for their characters from the Funemployed deck, and then developing a narrative around the audience's favourite job applicant.
So You Want a Job submission video
After the success of our first show, and having gathered so much interest from other improvisers I had asked but were unavailable for the first show, I realised this was a format I could do with a different cast every time if I wanted. I could finally have an opportunity to play with all the improvisers I've admired but not had the opportunity to play with. And then, I realised, it was a unique format that had the potential to be invited to festivals. Being on the production team of Femprovisor Fest, I wondered if I could assemble an all female cast to perform at the festival. I came up with a list of names - Leila, Diana, and Shirley. They were all improvisers I admired, and they'd all expressed interest in doing the show before. Unfortunately, we wouldn't have had an opportunity to perform before Femprovisor Fest submissions closed, but the seed had been planted now. I wanted to do a show with the three of them.
Once we had our performance date scheduled, submissions for the festival in Hawaii opened, and our performance was right in the middle of the submission period. I scrambled to ask my cast if they would be down with travelling to Hawaii with the show, because I wanted to go to that festival (being friends with the producers means I've admired their festival and what they select for it for years, and going for the festival is a good excuse to catch up with them in person), but knew I couldn't submit YUM, because we had members who couldn't afford to make the trip. I was elated when all three said yes. And managed to get the required photos for the submission taken on our performance night.
So You Want a Job promo shot
Though I have performed with YUM in three festivals across California (Antelope Valley Improv Comedy Festival, SF Sketchfest, and Hollywood Improv Festival), we have had more rejections than acceptances. Our show is somewhat unique in that we're inclined to tell those personal monologues that most people wouldn't, but I've been to enough festivals now to understand that we're not always different enough to stand out in the way a unique format like So You Want a Job can. It's why I plan to submit the show to other festivals that YUM members say they can't afford to go to, like AS IF, the Alaska State Improv Festival - another festival where I know the producer, and understand his rubric for accepting submissions is such that So You Want a Job has a good chance of being selected.
When performing at improv festivals is my goal, it's left me questioning how much longer I should continue paying those quarterly fees to be with a group that has less freedom to travel to festivals. It's not that I don't adore the people in the group, or the format. But the commitment versus the payoff, compared with So You Want a Job - where there are no fees to pay or perform, because I can rehearse in my garage if I want, the show keeps getting invited to perform at shows other people produce, and it was invited to a festival off the second show - maybe it's time for me to take a break from YUM so I can have both the time and the money to focus on these other improv goals. There's really only two things holding me back.
1) Being the production manager for YUM for over 18 months now, I know how much I personally bring to the group to keep us functioning so well, and getting us promoted and booked. So much of my personal identity at the moment is built into being not just a member of YUM, but the production manager. I go above and beyond anyone else in the group would to raise our profile. Probably because of my ASD-related tendencies, and the fact I don't have paid employment.
2) One of our members in particular is terrified of the group completely disbanding any time any member chooses to take a break. Given what I said above, in my role as production manager, I feel like this goes double for me, because I'm like the glue that keeps everything together. My monologues tend to be some of the most emotionally personal because of my lack of filter, so I easily bring something to our shows that others struggle with, but inspires them to do better.
A YUM performance, opening with one of my unfiltered monologues
So I don't know what to do. Improv has taken over my life in a way that I find it difficult to balance it with my home and family life. My husband refers to it as my secondary partner - he's more jealous of the time I spend on improv than he is any of the men I might be dating or involved with.
There's also no money in improv unless you teach, or direct. I don't get paid to direct So You Want a Job, because it's my show, but it is giving me the experience I would need in order to move up to that level, where people may be interested in paying for my expertise and learning from me. I've found it difficult to see myself as a teacher, but I'm building up the courage to to get there, because I already accidentally fell into the position of being seen as a leader, and because I've taught a couple of improv games to my kids. Maybe it's time I take that extra step. Stop paying so much for improv, and start getting paid.