I spend most of the morning kicking myself for two reasons:
1) Staying up so late last night to go to the comedy show (which, as it turns out, was okay but not fabulous enough to warrant the sleeping time); and
2) Setting my alarm for 4am to try to ring home to finally speak to my kids, (something I am aching for) and then spending the next two and a half hours trying to get the phone card to work.
I am cheered up a little by two enormous cups of coffee and for breakfast…fruit toast, blueberries and cherries. This, coupled with Nancy actually making me a packed lunch to take with me for training (complete with a home-baked American brownie, might I add) ensures that I am so damn spoiled and mothered here I may well never leave.
I try to shake off my sleep-deprived haze and pep myself up for the day ahead – my first day of private coaching with Daena Giardella.
I first read about Daena in an article in Tempo magazine almost two years ago – as soon as I read about her one-woman improvised musical comedy shows, it was like someone had hit me over the head with a lit sparkler. Though less painful and my hair didn’t catch on fire. The point is, I was immediately struck by the thought: “that’s EXACTLY what I want to do.”
As I walk up the stairs to the studio where we’ll be spending the next week workshopping my full-length show, I’m struck by the notion of how completely mind-blowing it is, to now be not only meeting this woman I read about all that while back in person, but to actually be working with her and learning how to do “EXACTLY what I want to do.”
We bump into each other and straight away I like her. We’ve spoken on the phone, of course, but until you bump fleshy bits (again, something not to be taken out of context) you just never know. The day pans out much like this:
– chatting through ideas of the show, nutting out what I want to say and how.
– looking through my DVD footage together (I had previously sent her a copy, but it had failed to do its job, obtuse little DVD that it is – don’t worry, it’s sitting in a naughty corner as I type) which turns out to be a great thing to actually do together because: a) we can talk through ideas as the footage progresses; b) it’s all fresh in both our minds as a point to start from; and c) her laughter affirms to me that she thinks I’m funny. Something which I would say at this early stage, seems almost imperative to having a successful performer/coach relationship!
– a debrief on the footage and ideas thus far.
– a solid but challenging warm-up, highlighting already the issues of solo improvisation. We talk about this later, in that it is quite different from the typical group improv – you don’t have anybody up there to fall back on but yourself, you have to find a way to overcome the inner critic (as you don’t have the support of another player to affirm what you’re doing), and you need to find the confidence within yourself to trust that what you’re doing is right and fully commit to it. But more on commitment later.
– series of improvised monologues, which included starting points such as:
a) a starting line of dialogue fed to me by Daena; b) a rant on how I was feeling at any particular point in time; c) a theme/word (e.g. ‘rage’, ‘guilt’) to come back to as both serious and comic monologues respectively; d) a point reached in a particular monologue which Daena would then coach me to explore deeper in a completely different monologue (again, with direction as to whether to take it into a comic or serious direction).
– interspersed with times of chatting about what came up, the struggles I felt during particular monologues and why these might be issues. I was surprised how many connections we found between issues I have as a performer can link back to personal stuff. And, in the words of Forrest Gump, “that’s all I have to say about that.”
– revisiting the raw material and ideas that came up during the monologue improvs (improv junkies or not, I am already convinced this is an AWESOME way of coming up with fresh material) and looking at which ones might be workshopped further.
– identifying some common themes that come up in my material and that I want to pursue in my full-length show, to give it some sort of structural basis and journey, rather than just being ‘bits of gags thrown together’.
– setting my homework – to write all my ideas (both the ones I came in with and those we came up with today) onto separate colour-coded index cards (one colour for each theme) to work with for the rest of the week.
PHEW! There’s so much to digest, I only wish I’d had the foresight to record what we did today. But tomorrow I’m videoing the lot! Well, maybe not the lot, but a lot. There you go. I’m so inspired, invigorated and impressed by Daena. She is so switched onto it, asks all the right questions, totally “gets” me and what I’m about, I feel myself trusting her more and more by the minute. I can honestly say that if I had to head back to Australia this second, I’d feel confident that I could go on to develop a really cool show purely on the basis of what we did today. But…there’s still 6 days to go, baby!
Bring it on!
As a happy epilogue to this story, I FINALLY managed to speak to my kids tonight. At first I couldn’t stop crying, but then the tears dissolved to rib-aching laughter once Ella’s comic conversation started kicking in.
Me: “So what have you been doing?”
Ella: “I did a burp!”
Me: “A burp? Really?”
Ella: “Yeah! A big one!”
Ella: (faking) “BUUUURRRP!”
Me: “And what are you doing today?”
And so it continued, with both her and I giggling our hearts away across opposite sides of the globe. Hearing her so happy made me feel like a million bucks.
I then tried to chat with Caleb but he was mid-2-year-old-tantrum – and for that moment, I was quite happy to be on the other side of the globe. In fact, there’s been many Caleb tantrums when I’ve wished for that exact thing: what do you know? Magic does happen.