#128-130. Improvise (& Sing) on Stage.

Improv changed my life. I’ve always loved going to improv shows. You can say whatever you want, Chicago/LA/New York, but Minneapolis has some of the best improvised theater in the country. In fact, Brave New Workshop bills itself as the oldest ongoing satirical comedy theater in the nation. And guess what?! It’s right down the street from my house.

A few years ago, I finally had the balls to sign up for improv classes. I’d always wanted to, but just thinking about it gave me IBS. What finally pushed me into sign-up mode was Go Fork Yourself, the weekly podcast I co-host with my boss, Andrew Zimmern.

Now, if you are at all familiar with AZ, you know he’s a media pro with a lot to say. I love the guy, but he can talk and talk and talk. I, on the other hand, can talk and talk and talk in more of a one-on-one situation. But put a microphone in my face and I freeze up like diesel on a cold winter’s day (BTW, the only reason I even have enough knowledge to make that simile is because I just bought a diesel car… more on that soon!). Add in the fact that my co-host is the Energizer bunny of podcasting, and well, I was never going to get a word in. I’m always second guessing what I am about to say, hesitating greatly before I start spewing words. That’s not a great quality to have when you’re recording a radio show.

Anyhow, I arrived at my very first improv class at BNW with sweat literally pouring down my back. Then I looked around the room. The 12 other newbies looked equally nervous, and once we started doing very simple warmups, I realized no one was especially “funny.” In fact, being funny is not the point of improv. The point is to be real. What a relief! By the end of the first two hour class, I felt totally amped! It was so damn fun and I absolutely loved my classmates— we had a 20-year-old guy who worked at the grocery store down the street, a sixty-something social workers, and everything in between.

These classes became the highlight of my week & I made some amazing friends in the process. However, the most valuable thing I took away from improv class is confidence. By week three, I noticed how much less I hemmed and hawed about what I said and did in my day-to-day life. Improv eased my anxiety and gave me so much freedom. And I’m convinced the whole “yes, and” concept made me a better girlfriend, coworker, friend, citizen. In fact, it’s a big reason why I started Hey Eleanor.

Considering how much greatness in my life I can directly attribute to improv, I never, ever, EVER wanted to perform in front of an audience. Sure, you’re not supposed to over-think it and there’s no real wrong answers…but you are never quite sure what might tumble out of your mouth in a high-pressure situation. And have you ever been to an improv show when things start to unravel, and then the wheels fall off? Even if your fellow performers are there to support (and often rescue)  you, an awkward scene is soooo cringe-worthy.

And then my friend Hannah, a serious badass and one of the greatest improvisors in the land, saw my Help Me section on the blog. She sent me a Facebook message, asking if I’d like to perform with her improv group at HUGE Theater the following week to satisfy my “sing in public” item. Uh, comosewha? Turns out, she’s in a singing improv group called Sean and the Ladies, where every scene somehow turns into a song. There’s even a band (or, more accurately, a drummer and keyboard dude). Hmmmm…. okay fine! I’ll do it!

I spent a full week trying not to think about it. After all, you can’t plan for improv. And not only did I have to improvise in front of an audience (#128), I had to do it while singing (#129). It all just happens in the moment and you go with it. I was only going to be singing eight counts in the very first song. I figured I could probably come up with that. And if not, I’d just start scatting I guess?

Warming up, sweating bullets.
Warming up, sweating bullets.

My big night arrived. It was a Wednesday and I’d only told my coworkers and the Beyonce about the performance. Of course, Bey told a few of our friends about the performance, so I had six cheerleaders in the 30-some person crowd. I desperately hoped the lights would be so bright that I couldn’t see anyone. I sat through the first two groups, palms sweatier than Whitney Houston at the Grammys (too soon?). Then, Hannah brought me backstage to warm up.

From what I can tell, Sean and the Ladies isn’t really some dude and a bunch of ladies. It’s a couple of guys, a couple of gals, and I am fairly certain no one is named Sean. They were all really friendly and seemed excited to have me onboard. We sang some scales, then “practiced” the intro song, which basically meant someone in the group would throw out a word, then four of us would come up with a song based on that word. The first person made up the chorus, the second person would sing a totally improvised verse. Then, it was my turn to make up a verse. Lastly, the fourth guy in our group belted out the bridge. We did a few run throughs, one about a being a tiger, another about taking your pants off when you get home from work, and a third about strawberry shortcake. It was pretty challenging because it was a cappella, so finding the melody wasn’t easy. I hoped it would be better with a live band.

After 20 minutes, we were “ready” to go on stage. We poured out of the door onto the small stage, lights so bright I could just barely make out my friends. Whee. Hannah introduced me, people clapped, and then the music started. I’ll let you watch the video (at the top of the post… having to watch that video counts as #130!) to decide how I did. All I can tell you is that when my turn came around, I simply opened my mouth and let the words fall out. And fall out they did! I feared completely freezing in the moment, but I didn’t! It was exhilarating. I decided to stay on stage for the rest of the show to sing backup.

Huge thanks to HUGE, Sean and the Ladies & Hannah for the opportunity. One of the scariest and most fun Hey Eleanor challenges yet. You guys all deserve a big ol’ eskimo kiss.

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