Improv 101 — Being Somebody Else

Every year, when I meet the new class of high school kids I teach improv to, I always give them a lecture. Most times I’m teaching it’s a gauntlet of “what game is he teaching us this week”, but the first week is always different, because I mostly just talk. About me. You might think that’s asinine or narcissistic, and well, maybe it is, but I think my story with improv is important.

I was always the introverted kid in class. Okay, I am the introverted kid in class, but in high school it was even worse. I was so bad I would be reading fantasy novels in my theatre class any chance I could, as long as the teacher wasn’t talking. And yeah, I got my book taken away by multiple teachers over my high school career. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly fast friends with anyone I met.

But then my soon-to-be improv coach started coming into the class as a guest teacher. He’d teach imrpov games just like on Whose Line is it Anyway?, and I loved when he came because then we’d get to play improv. You’d think the story ends there right? I jump on stage, come out of my shell through improv, then I started teaching, right?

Well, no. It took a lot more work than that. I wouldn’t even go on stage to play games when he asked. I just liked that he was there because I enjoyed watching improv, not because I wanted to do it myself. Me? An actor? Yeah, okay buddy.

A few months go by, and he eventually states that he’s recruiting students for an improv team. Nothing school related, but we would be joining a non-profit that helps high school kids perform on stages (most often by singing, but well, that part of the story isn’t really important). Against my better judgment, I signed up. I could watch more improv that way, at least.

And so, Kollin the audience member was forced to become Kollin the improviser. I’m not going to pretend I was the best on the team, (in fact I would argue against it), but my best moments tended to last the longest in our minds.

After a few years of our improv team doing great and going strong, old faces leaving and new faces joining, our coach told us he was moving. We had two options: hold our own or quit while we were ahead. We made the mistake of trying to hold our own. The only people that were left were just out of high school, after all, and neither of us had the resources nor the charisma to lead a team of teenagers.

But, I did accept the mantle of improv coach. And so Kollin the improviser became Kollin the teacher. Freshly graduated, I started joining my coach as he went into the high school to teach, and when he did move, soon it was just me.

A few years of that and here we are. An introverted Kollin standing on stage talking to a bunch of high school freshmen about what improv is. This is only the first half of the lecture, but I think it implies a lot about what improv can be. Yes, I’m still the introverted guy who won’t speak to a stranger unless spoken to. But through improv I’ve gained the ability to don a mask. The mask of who Kollin would be if he was extroverted. I wear it well. It suits me, in a way, and though I can’t wear it for long, people are often surprised when I tell them I’m introverted. I’m still working on being able to pull out that mask in non-teaching environments, but it’s the only time that version of me is really comfortable.

Improv really helped me find myself. For some people, it takes them out of their shell and they blossom into an entirely new creature. Sometimes it’s just a confidence shift. I think I might of changed the least of all the people from my improv team, but the new skills of being able to pretend I’m slightly different versions of Kollin would make people think I’ve changed a lot.

Improv changes you, but it’s always positive. I’ve never seen anyone negatively impacted by the experience, and though I’ve certainly seen people so embarrassed they’ve cried, they really did learn a lot and had some profound personality growth because of it. Improv is one of those things that I think everybody should try for a while. Even if it’s just a simple college class later in life.

Me — Jan ’19 Update

It’s been some time since I’ve done anything with the blog, but I never intended the break to be permanent. I thought 2019 would be a great time to jump back in. I have several pieces of news to share, so let’s go.

As always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, video games, reading/listening, school, and other things.

First things first, blog changes! Pretty simple, for now. I’m going to ease back into the updates, so I’ll only be writing two posts a week. Tuesday I’ll be posting ‘Me’ stuff, like this. I have a few months of things to catch up on, (I directed a play I wrote last semester, for example). Saturday I’ll be posting other stuff. Reviews, D&D, Improv things, etc. It may turn into three days a week, depending on how this Spring semester goes. We’ll see.

Unfortunately I don’t have much writing news to share. All my writing has been focused towards school (exclusively playwriting format these past few months), and that’s going to continue this semester as well. On that note, while I haven’t been writing prose lately, I do hope to get back to that soon, as I did enjoy writing the weekly short stories. In other news, I am in the composition process of putting together my second short story anthology! Unlike my first book which was published specifically as the first stories I had ever written, this new book will actually be a set of my best stories from the last two years, so you know, actually enjoyable. Stay tuned on that, I plan on an early summer publication, if not earlier.

Video games. This is going to need a longer post, but I’ve been a little all over the place lately. Most recently I bought a Switch. The joy-cons are definitely on par for the weirdest controllers ever, but their versatility is undeniably innovative. I’ve only got two games for now, but it’s a good console. Expect a review on Smash soon.

I’ve been slowly easing back into audiobooks lately. I recently finished Skyward, Brandon Sanderson’s newest novel. I have thoughts, so expect a review on that soon, too! Oh boy, I have more to talk about than I realized. Maybe twice a week isn’t enough… I’ll figure it out. Other than that, I’ve been reading lots of classic literature and plays for my classes. I have three books that are on my desk to be read, though, and at the same time I’ve also been trying to read the D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide cover to cover. I don’t do a lot of physical reading to begin with, so I have no further comments at this time.

The Fall 2018 semester was… a lot, as you might have guessed with my unprecedented absence. I directed my own play, and a wrote quite a lot of new stuff for some other classes, too. Some of it might even end up in my second anthology—it certainly won’t all be prose this time, I’ll say that much. What’s more, another play I wrote is being produced this semester, though I’ve elected not to direct this new one. The play I directed was about capturing the nostalgia for gaming culture in the early 2000’s. This new play is about forgiving yourself for loss, so while I think it will have just as much emotional impact, it doesn’t require a very specific kind of person to helm the production. Plus, I want to see what somebody else does with it, so I can’t wait to see how it turns out without my having had a hand in it.

Also tied to school, I’m hoping this semester, Spring 2019, will be my last. By the end of this semester I will have two AA degrees as well as a playwriting and a teaching certificate. I have no immediate plans for continuing a formal education, but you never know. So, 2019 is bound to be an interesting year.

Lastly, I think the thing I’m most excited for is the new D&D campaign I’m DMing for my brothers. I’m really excited, and I’ve already put dozens upon dozens of hours into prep already. Three maps, multiple pages of character descriptions, and a list of encounters complete with the music associated with each. I’ve also spent a big chunk of money on miniatures so that I have monsters to throw at the party rather than using dice.

So, excited for a lot of things. D&D campaign, production of my new play, last semester of school, and a new short story anthology. And good to be back!