Once upon a time in 1983 I moved to Madison, Wisconsin and met three guys named Steve. The Steve who came with me to buy my futon and help me shlep it up the stairs to my tiny apartment became known as Futon Steve. Everyone who met him through me also called him Futon Steve. He would call me up and say, “Hi, it’s Fu.”
One night Futon Steve invited me to Club de Wash, a bar that usually featured live music. It was a Tuesday night and the cover charge was two bucks. We went to see a group called Ark Improv. We sat with a bunch of folks in a big round booth and as I watched the show, I kept turning to Futon Steve and saying, “I could do that…” or “I don’t know if I could do that…” or “I could totally do that.”
I felt like I had found my tribe, that these were my people; they were speaking my language. My inner plates shifted.
Of course people who are really good at what they do make it look easy. That ensemble of nine UW-Madison undergrads was a talented crew. Almost every single person from that first generation of Ark Improv is working professionally in the entertainment industry. While Joan Cusack is the biggest name from that group, other folks have won Emmys, write for and act in films, network and cable series, produce documentaries featured on CNN, work in France in film and theatre. When I finally attended my first improv class, I found there was a teensy weensy bit more to the art form than I had anticipated. (See first sentence of this paragraph.)
I finally auditioned for and got into the third generation of Ark Improv. That was over 35 years ago. I have been studying, performing and teaching improv for more than half my life. Most of what I’ve learned doing improv informs the way I move through the world and how I filter relationships and experiences.
In particular, I am always and forever on the lookout for a good scene partner. Someone with healthy mischief, a generosity of spirit that is infinite, someone who will say “Yes, and” to my suggestions in a heartbeat.
He always wants to play. He is always “in the mood” for a good time. In the mornings he jumps on the bed to smell my eyes for goop, tells me to get moving, then jumps off the bed. Rinse and repeat. Sometimes he lays vertically down the length of my body and tries to lick my lips, which I never let him do. If I’m in the mood to frolic, I cover my mouth with the blanket and make wild noises, which drives him bonkers. More jumping. More dramatic expression. Sometimes he lays across my chest, pauses for a moment and lets me pet him. Then the mountain goat routine resumes.
Whatever I offer, he says YES: modern dance, speaking in gibberish, singing crooked harmonies, crying, cooing all of the names I have for him. Sometimes I’ll say, “Puppy – look adorable if you think I should XYZ.” He is so supportive. Loyal. He seems to love me no matter what. I like that in a scene partner.
Morty, on the other hand, always has the same suggestion: B-A-L-L? Now? How about Now? Okay, Now? He is ever hopeful.
He doesn’t mean to be funny, but Morty is a laugh riot. His latest trick is to push the ball inside the cover of the bed I made for him that’s in the art room, act like he can’t for the life of him figure out how to get it out of there and then drag the entire bed into the living room. He is always creating impossible situations with the fahshtunkenah ball—pouncing and pushing it under something so he can’t reach it—and then running up to me, jumping on me, desperately saying, “Mama-Mama-the ball-needs-to be-rescued-never-mind-how-it-got-under-the-chair/couch/nightstand-aren’t-I-the-cutest-pony-in-the-world! Urgent-urgent-Mayday-Mayday-Fire-in-the-hole!”
We are both doing so much better regarding the whole reactivity dynamic. When he gets triggered by a dog or a person, he is able to regain his composure and re-focus so much more quickly than before. I too am learning how to pull his focus back to me and to keep us both moving. I have discovered the power of turkey sausage. I will have to write an Ode to Turkey Sausage, as it is my best friend and savior.
I am also improving when it comes to reacting to people. I catch myself sooner vs. later and fight the urge to be ‘right’ on a daily basis. I met a Black woman whose young adult son was murdered a couple of months ago. No matter how leaky my mortal heart gets, I think of her and the fact of her loss and am brought to my knees. Surrender is a true starting point for transformation.
It is so much easier talking to Morty in the dark, either in the early morning or at night. I tried to explain what the Chauvin trial verdict means, but have to keep amending what I say as more and more black people are being killed by police.
Morty doesn’t ask for the ball when I talk about this. He sighs in all the right places, curls up a little tighter and leans against me, as if for ballast.
Oh so mortally yours,