LEAPpost 1: fear and excitement

I’ve begun improv boot camp with Bobbi Block and four dear friends and fellow citizen actors from the Philly theatre community in preparation for our performance at the Live Arts festival in Philadelphia in LEAP. Meg is my dear friend and fellow Quaker actor. She and her husband were Sooz’s and my inspiration to try having kids and being artists (damn them!). We are godparents to her gorgeous two year-old daughter Willa. Tom played Petruchio to my Kate, and so we have a kind of secret relationship. Joe has just bought a house with his new lady friend, who is moving here from Seattle to join him. Catherine is married to Whit, a director I have auditioned for a lot recently, and they have twin five year old girls. She and I were at Yale College together.

The day began with Catherine recounting a horrendous and hilarious time spent, in all places, Chatham MA. The similarities of her experiences with ours (mostly with Sooz’s) are startling. Both have had to care for frail alcoholic fathers dying in Chatham, Sooz’s Dad died last February and Catherine’s is still alive. She told us the story of taking him out to a restaurant with her girls, with him nearly deaf so she was shouting at him above the restaurant din. He was also prone to ghastly coughing bouts having to do with the cancer in his lungs. Now add to all that one of her daughters puking on her in the midst of dinner, and I was covering my face in horror and amusement as I listened to her.

Then Bobbi worked our asses off for six hours or so, as we re-learned the basics of long form improvisation: sweeping, edits, snogging, revolving doors, monologues and just getting used to each other. I sensed both an excitement and fear from all of us. I shared the sense expressed by Catherine and others that this journey is starting out as something which feels very special to me, in that it is mine, shared with other artists, and I don’t have to concern myself with the pressing, sometimes overwhelming domestic concerns of the rest of my life while I work on LEAP. In fact, LEAP is a kind of creative outlet for those concerns, for they form a very real palette of material to use in the scenes we create. Certainly, for me Meg and Catherine, this is a chance NOT to be parent for a while and to celebrate the artist in us.

I am deeply stirred by the actor-centric nature of this work. It feels like some of the purest exploration of actor creativity I have known. And Bobbi is extraordinary. There’s no way any of us would be doing this, taking these risks, without her warm and organized hand at the helm. And there are many risks to take. The work is intensely personal, and at this early stage we are dancing around the rim of the canyon looking down, wondering when we will all fall gently together into the depths of revelation.