I Did It My Way . . . With a Little Help From My Friends


Lately I have been wondering where I am headed with this whole Zuppa del Giorno thing. That seems a fairly natural consideration at this point. I mean, I just turned thirty years of age. For the past five years I have given a significant portion of my career time to working in this milieu, and in that time we have achieved many of the seemingly impossible goals we set for ourselves, such as simply maintaining an improvisatory theatre troupe for so long, going to Italy to teach, learn and perform, and developing work that honors and (I believe) advances a tradition of theatre oft neglected this side of the Atlantic. Add to that the homecoming nature of Prohibitive Standards (with David as director again and returning to completely improvised dialogue) and there's very little reason to worry over a need for personal reflection.

Yet I worry. In spite of investing so much and believing even more in embracing the unknown, it is disturbing to feel a lack of drive in this work. Perhaps it's very simple: We still don't know what next year's mainstage show will be, thus I have nothing specific to keep ruminating on at odd moments during the year. I think, however, it has as much to do with that uncertainty as it does with a certain frustration on my part. This frustration may best be characterized by a metaphor concerning the actual action of performing improvisation.

To wit: In long-form improvisation, one needs a certain familiarity at least with one's stage partners. In commedia dell'arte, this is enhanced by established bits of business carried from show to show, called lazzi. It's necessary to have some things understood. However, it is equally necessary to have a sufficient balance of completely spontaneous, unrehearsed moments--to have them, recognize them and take advantage of them. That's what gives the form its life, its truth and the lion's share of its joy.

And here am I (in the larger picture [the one in a five-year frame]) feeling as though it's all planned out. The scenario has solidified to the point whereat it is almost calcified. And more significantly, I feel as though I don't have quite the same things to contribute to breaking it up as I used to. When I started this work, I was twenty-five years old, with most of my background in stylized comedy sampled from sitcoms and farces. I leaped in headfirst, heedless of danger, and accepted everything I was told. My energy was boundless and I was determined to do wild things with unrelenting abandon. So it seems to me now, at any rate. Over half a decade, I have changed, and the work has been through many changes itself. It's difficult to distinguish between the two, speaking quite frankly. What changed in a given circumstance? It or me?

I suppose that's just one of the mysteries of life. And these changes in direction can't always be controlled, even when they're perceived to be happening. The challenge is to change with them, and carry the momentum forward. Accept and build. "Yes, and...."

What fun is it, knowing exactly what to do next, anyway?
 
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