Photo - David Escobedo
I have always felt like the people you play with are more important than the product you put out. Being a part of a community and creating spaces for communities to grow are what drew me to improv. For the last several years, being online has given me a stronger sense of what communities look like and how connections can form despite not being in the same room.
In November, I had the privilege of travelling to Ireland and the UK and seeing how the online community translates to strong connections, unwavering support and folks truly having each other’s backs both on and off stage.
Improv Fest Ireland was my first international festival and international teaching opportunity. I was thrilled to be in the place I love, doing the things I love but as an introvert I was a bit overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in ways that are difficult to describe but I’ll try my best. As I entered the pub upstairs in the beautiful Georgian venue, I was awestruck not only at the number of improvisers mingling and talking but at the incredible talent in the room. This was my community, my people and I sat back and observed the reunions, the hugs, the laughter, the touches on the shoulders. The need for connection, physical touch and conversations was palpable and permeated the room. I felt it deep inside in a way that was both disarming and inviting. After years of isolation and limited in-person improv events, I was unaware of just how much I longed for this type of interaction. But I sat frozen, unable to join in, unsure of where to start and how to break the magic of what I was observing. And then I heard my name!
The call came from a face I didn’t recognize but I headed over to their table. They introduced themselves and told me they were sent to find me at the festival. We had a mutual improv friend in common. We talked, took a photo and then I heard my named called again. As I looked up, I saw a face that I knew attached to a person who I adored. I hurried over, went in for a hug and all the apprehension I felt earlier vanished. We chatted, more photos happened and then others started coming over. There were many more pictures taken, excitement and disbelief were a common theme as so many people were meeting for the first time ever or reuniting after a very long time. I felt a sense of euphoria wash over me and my introvert side began to settle down a bit and allow myself to embrace everything happening.
Scenes like this continued for 3 more days at the festival. I think I knew then but I am sure now, that this was a defining experience in my life. And this was only the first week of my trip. After Ireland, I headed to London where I was hosted by an improviser who I had connected with early on during the pandemic. We took classes together, had game night and even did some performances together. Her and her partner opened their home without hesitation and without knowing me outside a zoom square. I was greeted and treated like family as the hoisted me into a cab and took me for Sunday roast.
I was only in London for a few days and there were way too many improv folks to meet in that short time. I wanted to find a way to bring everyone all together and the idea of an improv jam came to mind. I reached out to Hoopla, an improv theater that I had take a class with during the pandemic and they offered me their space. What an incredible gift and I am so thankful for their generosity that Hoopla showed. So, late on a Tuesday night 20 folks came out to do what they love with me. I felt honored and a bit unworthy as this group included people who came hours to be there as well as some big players in the England improv community, who took the time to be there for me.
After London, I travelled north to Chester, Glossop and even Wales for a day. Someone said to me they were so impressed that I was taking this whole journey alone. The truth is, I was never alone. I was surrounded by love and people who had my back. Whether it was bringing me cold medicine because I wasn’t feeling well. Or waiting patiently as I walked up the steep village hills. Or driving me two hours back from one town to another because of the train strikes. Or walking in the rain to visit seaside beaches and castles. Or driving 8 hours round trip to come to a workshop and a show with me. They introduced me to their families, brought me into their homes and again NONE of these people had meet me in person. We’d connected online through this art form that lifts us all up and provides so much joy.
In scene work, I thrive when the relationship is the glue that moves the scene forward. I didn’t realize how much that translates to life outside of improv as well. I had developed relationships with folks. True friendships that I believe will last a long time. We didn’t feel like the strangers that we truly were when we met. It was noticeable in the late night conversations and snacks. It was noticeable when we texted each other as we got back to hotels and AirBnBs. It was noticeable as people championed me in introductions and classrooms. It was noticeable with how valued I felt on this trip. Thank you to everyone who took the time to see me and my chubby little legs. You have changed me in ways that I am still identifying.