I am very glad a few more members of the local STL improv community had the chance to be exposed to the phenomenon that is the Missouri Thespian Conference this year. If there is anywhere in the world where the interest level on the improvometer gets further into the red zone than at MST, I am not sure I want to go there. MST is about as much as I ever want to handle. Anything more would be riotous. 

The key is that high school students have this time set aside for them to delve into something that interests them. Imagine that: your responsibilities for a weekend are as follows:

- spend time with friends with similar interests
- meet interesting people with similar interests
- see talented people do things you love
- delve into something you love.
- party
- sleep
- eat

For folks who have jobs, children, reputations, that's a list smells like bacon. But the crowd in attendance is fresh to everything and don't have distractions - they are liberated from their parents and school. They only have to think about themselves and they don't have to understand "career" yet.

Are you hearing the bacon sizzle? I'm not done. Behind the scenes, the folks who run the event do so with passion and fervor. I've had the pleasure of watching. The folks who run the show - I don't know everyone's name, but Jennifer Forest-James, Lara Corvera, and Chad Little seem to always be in the fox hole, year after year - they set the bar higher and higher for themselves. They'll never get the credit and they don't care. They just want this giant machine to churn out excellence, again and again, year after year. More schools. More students. More fun. More opportunities. IMPROVE.

It's just more bacon than the pan can handle. 

Speaking of bacon... on the third day, I had a bacon cheeseburger by myself. Five CORE Improv coaches had been involved in workshops and judging for about 35 hours. But while eating this delicious thing in a half hour of relative peace, I contemplated that, while improv is written in the wind, coaching isn't. I've been humbled a lot through the years, but never as much as this one by former students who have been been able to make contact and remind me of the things we taught them. This might sound insane coming from someone who runs an organization that coaches improv, but I never realized it meant that much to people.

So friends, to the few of you who read this far.... thank you for that level of dedication. Thank you for having the ability to see past the imperfections of your coaches and teachers and for spending the time to get what they meant to say when they did not have the right words. Thank you being patient when we made fools of ourselves and offering your silent respect anyway. Thank you for letting something pure and simple be your guide. Thank you for for learning and than you for being passionate about what you learn. 

Here are some nuggets from what we taught this weekend:

  • If you cannot think of something to say, pick something up. 
  • You do not have to know what it is before you pick it up. The act of picking it up will tell you.
  • There are two ways to avoid the horseshoe of death: pick something up, and say how you feel.
  • You have to know how to be crazy, but it should be an option, not a default.
  • Guns can be addictive. Wielding them in scenes is powerful and  forces change. Watch out for using it as a go-to.
  • Same thing for body fluids. If one body fluid comes out, the others eventually follow. And there's only so many.
  • Never kill cute animals. 
  • Awkward silence usually feels awkward to performers long before it feels awkward to the audience. BE PATIENT.
  • Object work is emotion work. 
  • The only way to disappear onstage is to make others focus on something else. 
  • Audiences want to live vicariously through performers. A lack of confidence in yourself ruins that intimacy and turns them against you
  • Although they are not the same,  your relaxed posture is much closer to "total confidence" than it is to "total shyness." Use that to your advantage.
  • Female performers don't have to respond to overextending male performers with subservience or with similar levels of energy to contribute to the scene effectively. In fact, those decisions can be traps.