Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Post-College Years

ImprovBoston, Inman Square, 1997

Due to my own academic laziness and indecisiveness, I graduated a semester late from Boston College. Instead of the Spring of 1996, I graduated the following winter. After my graduation, I continued to hang out on campus (my then-girlfriend was still a student there) and I even participated in a couple of theater department productions. After a few months of being on campus on an almost daily basis, I started to feel like a hanger-on and I knew that I had to get out of there and move on.

I auditioned for many local plays in an effort to fill that creative void that I was leaving behind. One day I was out on an audition at the Boston Playwrights Theater in Brighton when I saw a flyer for an improv class being taught by a local instructor named Marjorie Burren. I wrote her number down and gave her a call. Later that day I was registered for my first real improv class.

The classes were being held at the Piano Factory Space in the South End. It was the first time I took classes with non-college students so I was a little nervous because I would no longer be the "big man on campus" sort of speak. For the last couple of years at BC, I was the go-to person for improv exercises or side-coaching. I had developed a reputation for being able to direct and teach improvisation to comedians and actors. I had a fear that now that I was out of the comfort zone of my campus I would end up hating these classes, but instead my love for this art was renewed and stronger than ever.

I was doing exercises geared towards acting professionals and everyone there applied the necessary level of discipline and hard work needed to succeed. After feeling like I had reached a pinnacle of improv achievement as a senior in college, I could feel myself being challenged in new ways and becoming a better improviser. Aside from the actual improv instruction, the ability to break through this threshold was one of my biggest takeaways from that class. I was suddenly exposed to a deeper and more meaningful level of improvisational theater. It was great to receive instruction from a seasoned veteran.

As we finished up the first 8-week course, she informed me about upcoming auditions at a local improv theater named ImprovBoston. She put me in touch with the space and within a few days, one of the actors, Greg Wymer, told me about the auditions and what I should expect. I'll never forget that he said, "We don't expect you to be Robin Williams or anything". That allowed me to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

I don't want to sound cocky, but the first round was a breeze. A handful of us were invited to callbacks the next week. Based on the talent I saw I felt that I had a good chance to be cast. They said that they had two open spots and as far as I was concerned, me and a recent grad from Tufts, Amy Rhodes, were strong contenders after the first round of auditions...and then He walked in. I'll never forget the moment he walked through the front doors of ImprovBoston. He had intimidated me with his raw skill and intelligence at Boston College and now he was here in front of me with all of his flowing golden locks...Don Schuerman.

Don was one of the most brilliant improvisers and comedians during my tenure at Boston College. His ability to do the mental gymnastics of twisted and mutated short-form with about a dozen different suggestions was beyond my comprehension. Sitting among the sea of co-eds, I would be in awe of his talent...and now he was here...and I was in fear.

It was clear that they were going to be casting two man and one woman. When Don arrived, I knew that my fate was sealed. Despite my certain ending, I gave it the old college try. During the three-hour callback with director Ron Jones and other members of the ImprovBoston troupe, we played a variety of different improv games. Some of which I knew, most of which I didn't. I held my own against Don, Amy and a few other folks but I knew what was in store for me. I left the building feeling that in the future, I would only be returning as an audience member.

After a few days, there was no news...and why should there be, right?! Now that I knew where the theater was I told my girlfriend that we should go check-out a show. We made plans for the Friday Night production of TheatreSports.

As we walked towards the darkened doorway at 1253 Cambridge Street, we were welcomed by the Artistic Director and director of the ImprovBoston cast, Ron Jones. Ron is an unforgettable teddy bear of a man who is as solid as he is cuddly. The man gave me a hug and then told me that the tickets were free. I felt kind of like a big shot while holding my girfriends hand when he said..."Shows are free for cast members. Welcome!"

The elation that went through me was instant and amazing. Against all odds (in my head), I had been cast in a professional improv troupe as one of the newest cast members of ImprovBoston. Those words were still bouncing around in my head and all through my body as I sat down. This theater...this dark little theater with barely enough lighting and no matching chairs was now my home. That night, I might as well have been sitting at Radio City Hall. It was the most beautiful theater I had ever seen.