Just Go Somewhere else! Spoken by Elizabeth at an Alan Arkin Improv Workshop
What had I been thinking?!? It had seemed like a good idea, the impulse that had flashed through my mind two weeks earlier as I sat in the movie theater watching Little Miss Sunshine. There he was, on the big screen, playing the irreverent grandfather – Alan Arkin, the guy who had been leading improv workshops for years, not improv for Second City Players, not improv for Saturday Night Live actors, improv for regular people like me who want to play and have fun and feel more free. “I think I’m supposed to go to an Alan Arkin Improv Workshop,” I whispered to Garee, my friend who was sitting next to me. And it was Garee who cheered me on, who looked online that October evening nearly five years ago and found it: Improv with Alan Arkin: twenty participants, no acting experience required.
And here I was, two weeks later, in Half-Moon Bay, California, on Day Two of a two-day workshop, sitting next to my friend, Laura, from Bozeman, who had stepped right on board. (“I think I’m supposed to go, too! My father went to school with Alan Arkin!”) Here I was, me, Laura, and eighteen other participants, all actors with improv experience. Day One had started out okay. I was the first to introduce myself as we made our way around the circle, “I’m Helen,” I said, “and I want to fly!” I had said it with confidence and a smile, not knowing at that point in the intro process that I was in flock of seasoned flyers. With a little less confidence, I had survived the next exercise where we tossed imaginary balls around the circle, and the first skit where my only role was to sit in a sandbox and be a kid. But after lunch, things went downhill fast. When it was my turn to be up front on that workshop stage, no clever and witty came out of my mouth, and my feet were bound to the floor. I just stood there, my flying wings nowhere in sight.
Now on Day Two, sitting here next to Laura, I was ready to quit, ready to sign up for the surfing lessons being offered a block away. I had said as much to Alan Arkin during the break a few minutes earlier. “I just don’t get it. I guess improv isn’t for everyone.” He had told me to stick with it. “You’re here for a reason,” he had replied with kindness and an Alan Arkin twinkle. Our assignment for this day was to create an event for ourselves. He had given us free reign. And people were creating events for themselves, and many of these skits were funny and poignant, and, these seasoned actors, I realized, were trying to find their wings, too, to create something meaningful for themselves. And that’s when it came to me, a skit that was perfect – just be real, Helen, just be where you are. It would be a simple scene, only two of us on the stage, Elizabeth – an actor with a friendly smile who didn’t seem to care that I wasn’t clever and witty – and I. And it would be Monday, the day after this workshop and I would be signing up for acting lessons and Elizabeth would be playing my acting teacher. I was ready.
And here we were, Elizabeth and I in front of the class, sitting in chairs in her pretend office, me being me, the inept improv girl, telling her how I just didn’t get it, this improv business. “I need lessons,” I said. And she said, “Just go somewhere else.” “What?” I asked. And she repeated herself, “Just go somewhere else!” “You mean like this?” And I got up and I did it; I went somewhere else, a few steps away. And she cheered me on. And the audience cheered me on. And I jumped up and down and I flailed my arms. And I asked, “Now what?!?” And she said, “Just go somewhere else!” And I’m not sure how it happened as I hopped and flailed, going from place to place, how I ended up on top of a table, raising my arms high into the air and singing at the top of my lungs in my tone-deaf voice, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” to the most handsome guy in the group, but I that’s what I did. And I can tell you that it was exhilarating, it was a wild ride and a good full-out flight. “Just go somewhere else!”
Can it be that easy? When we’re stuck with our feet bound to the ground and our minds full of thoughts that feel heavy, can we take off, can we wiggle our toes and move our hips and our shoulders and think of thoughts that feel a little bit better? Can we just go somewhere else, and somewhere else, and somewhere else, until we find ourselves flapping those wings and singing our hearts out?