Monday I felt a bit like I was riding on the trunk of an elephant again. I was lifted up and dropped down, all the while feeling giddy and astonished that everything really was happening. I loved it.
This week kicked off the Laughter For A Change improv classes with seniors at the Metro Chinatown Senior Lofts (which I wrote about last week). I spent some time beforehand preparing for our class, going over our lesson plan with my co-mentors Keong and Bryan, and developing a survey to administer to our students at the beginning and end of our program. I really wanted to get a better idea of how the residents viewed themselves, their creativity, and their relationship to their community before we began.
As people trickled into the community game room where our classes are held, we introduced ourselves and filled out name tags, realizing in the process that the majority of this first week's attendants spoke English as a second language, or not at all. The translator who had joined us for last week's workshop wasn't there to help us, and the lesson plan and surveys we had dreamt up just weren't going to happen - but something more fun did!
We dove into our exercises, eschewing verbal explanations in favor of a lot pantomiming, using images Bryan pulled up on his smart phone as references for a few games, and finding once again that these seniors are skilled at space work (creating props or objects through gesture and imagination). We created different musical bands, playing imaginary music and having our 'audience' dance along once they 'heard' the music which was being played; we took turns flipping a table-sized pancake; we pulled a fishing rod out of a cigar box, and when one of the students caught my eye ball on her 'line,' she reeled it in, chopped it up, and called it "sashimi." It certainly must've looked like chaos at times, and but at the end of the day, we were 12 strangers, using laughter and play to communicate where our verbal communication failed us. It was so much fun.
Later that same evening, my musical improv troupe Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party performed our final show at the Cherry Afterschool Special at iO West. We had performed as a 'crush' of host team Cherry for 86 weeks straight, since 2012, more than a year and a half's time, earning us the title of longest-running cage match in improv history and a mainstage show at iO West each month, and we lost the evening by two votes. It was an inevitable end, one we were prepared for, but I felt a flood of emotions nonetheless.
When I think back to Robot's first few weeks in the Cherry Crush, I know it looked like a lot of chaos. We thankfully had Sierra Scheppman and a few of our other friends taping those early performance, and as I look at the footage of weeks and weeks going by, I can watch as we slowly came to find a common language. We developed our own structure for our musicals made up on the spot, and through body language, notes with our coaches (including Cherry team member Michael Garcia), and a lot of hours spent rehearsing and performing, we came up with something that delighted our audiences and challenged us as improvisers. None of us were speaking Mandarin, but we might as well have been as we forged this musical language amongst new friends.
It is sad to see the end of what essentially was a very long residency, our Beatles in Hamburg experience, if you will, but so incredible to witness the journey we took together and all of the support we received along the way. We sustained and built an audience of friends and strangers who came back week after week to watch us perform. We were encouraged and supported by our gracious hosts Cherry and iO West. We were challenged by the teams who played opposite of us and our own desire to step up our game. In the chaos and excitement of our final bow at the Cherry Crush, I couldn't stop smiling, feeling both sadness for an end to a great period in our lives, and excitement for so many new beginnings. I have so much gratitude for the friends we made, the people who encouraged us, and the people who challenged us to grow that I find it hard to put it down into words. I wish I could abandon my words and just hug everyone who joined us in this journey... but I know if I did, that'd be several hundred hugs to hand out.
So now I am looking ahead to next week, where I will pay forward the generosity that was afforded to Robot Teammate and with patience and a little creativity, support our new students as we work through the chaos. I am confident that laughter can help us create in our own form of communication, that with encouragement and consistency, any challenge can be overcome, and that when I look back on these early weeks of our program, I will delight in the messy uncertainty of it all. (I'm also brainstorming more nonverbal improv games, so please leave any suggestions you may have in the comments!)
As for Robot Teammate and The Accidental Party, we have a show next week at a brand new venue for us, Chloe's at Golden Road Brewery, on Wednesday at 8pm, as well as our mainstage show at iO West at 8pm on Friday. We have lots of exciting new things on our docket for this next stage of our existence as a troupe, and I'm looking forward to seeing how teaching this unique community challenges me to grow as a performing improviser. I'm probably going to feel as if I'm stuck on this elephant trunk for a while, but I truly welcome the ride.