This post was supposed to be about physicality in Improv. It was also supposed to be titled The Body Keeps the Score. It is neither of those things because it turns out even a girl with ADHD can’t truly have an original thought. My brain can’t stay inside the box, but it certainly can stay within the bounds of the total accumulation of all of the centuries of human thought. Unless the author is writing in their native cuneiform, even the next Great American novel will most likely share overarching plot themes with thousands of other plot elements throughout history – and that’s okay!
As my new Improv teacher describes it: “You remember that movie about that guy and that girl? And they seemed like they were good together and you thought they’d get together? Then something happened, and they didn’t get together – but then they did and it was okay? What was that called?” There is nothing original under the sun, and we’re encouraged in Improv to tap into universality for comedic effect. Improv encourages us to mine tv tropes for concepts to explore in a pinch.
Realizing I’m not that original after all is why this post is no longer about physicality in Improv, which was the topic of the first session of the next series of classes that I finally started this week, but is instead about the use of call-backs, Chekhov’s gun and strategic use of Breaking of the Fourth Wall to meta-analyze my own motivations for talking about physicality in Improv (and/or life) instead of exploring physicality in Improv (and/or life.)
It’s also a good example of why you should never look a gift call-back in the mouth, of what stream of what unedited stream-of-consciousness ADHD thinking looks like, and, of course, of pressing the punchline in general.
This is an actual series of events that occurred in my first return to Improv session:
Instructor: “Today’s theme is physicality.”
Lavender (in her head): “I am totally naming next my post The Body Keeps the Score. I don’t even care if nobody remembers that I use the words trauma and Improv with about the same frequency or if no one else gets the connection that that book is about the body and trauma.”
Instructor: “Today we are going to talk about being in your body. Improv 101 students can be in their body, but then they get stuck inside of their own heads. They worry about their next line of witty dialogue – and while they do they go stock still on stage and forget their body. They become talking heads, and that’s boring to the audience. Improv 201 students need to be to be able to be in their head and in their body at the same time.”
Lavender (still in her own head, and probably stock still and spacey looking in her body): “What?! Wait, did he literally just feed me a Chekhov’s blog post? Are we seriously doing the ‘you need to integrate mind and body therapy spiel?’ This is almost too on the nose…”
Bully-in-the-Brain (unfortunately also in Lavender’s head, despite her best attempts at serving an eviction notice): “So, in that case, you are going to suck today. I mean, you have all the body awareness of a girl who forgets to eat until others complain about her tummy gurgling.”
Lavender (to her Bully-in-Brain): “Great. I don’t think I’ve done a legitimate ‘Something I Failed at Today‘ post for some time…”
Instructor: <Says something.> Lavender doesn’t really know because the Bully is distracting, even if the rest of her running monologue isn’t because she’s gotten used to having dozens of channels blaring in her brain constantly, what with the ADHD is for life bit. (That article claims medications turn off 58 of 59 tv channels usually on in the ADHD brain. That’s not strictly accurate: it’s more like they turn off 48 and now you are down to a functional, if confusing, ten.)
Lavender (alone again inside her head because the Bully had no response to her last comment – or maybe just likes Improv too much to argue further): “Wait, the Body Keeps the Score is the one about the disconnect between the brain and body in trauma, right? I wish I’d ever been willing to buy the book instead of just renting it from the library. How long have I been on the waiting list for that? Am I going to have to buy the book just to feel okay using that title for my post? Also, if a book is that popular, why does the library only have one copy?…”
<Some variant of this monologue keeps up for a while, but Lavender resumes listening to her instructor and enjoys the rest of the session. Sometime later, on the way home..>
Lavender (again to herself): “Maybe I’ll just Google to make sure I’m not the Guardian columnist who used a meme* of a quote from 1984 without verifying. Also, maybe I should re-read 1984? Would I remember it enough to quote it anymore? Hey, what was the name of that Sinclair Lewis book about the U.S. turning fascist in the 1930s?* I meant to read that at some point…”
<Even later still, to her Partner as she walked through the door.>
Lavender: “We talked about being in our bodies today!”
Partner:** “I assume you are going to write a post about it? When you do, you should figure out what the cost per class is and if it’s cheaper than your therapy co-pay. I bet it is…”
Lavender: “Don’t tempt me. Also, do I need to have read a book to reference it in a post? It’s on my list, but the library is slow. I’ve never actually read The Body Keeps the Score all the way through. I’ve just read excerpts or read about somebody reading it.”
Partner: “Just include the standard ‘not from original sources’ caveat and do the standard I-don’t-write-for-the-Guardian sanity check. Read 1984 again before you ever use it in a post, but nobody cares about a non-fiction concept from the trauma literature that – if it isn’t from that book specifically – will have a really close equivalent in it. ”
I did the standard I-don’t-write-a-column-for-the-Guardian sanity check, and, apparently, I should have stuck to just joking about the book instead of knowing about it. Some things exist too seriously to be any fun to joke about anymore. Including Improv?
Apparently, The Body Keeps the Score itself describes how improv has emerging uses as part of trauma therapy. There is a classroom violence/trauma prevention curriculum that uses Improv. Bessel van der Kolk was an author of the first trauma yoga study. There has not been an official large-scale study of the effectiveness of trauma improv, that I have found, but preliminary evidence of efficacy exists. Trauma Drama also exists. It is possible to train with Bessel van der Kolk’s affiliated institute to offer trauma improv (and trauma drama/trauma yoga.)
I love Improv, but I don’t think I’d want to take improv explicitly for traumatized people. I like to claim Improv is trauma therapy, but I don’t think I’d ever want it to actually be part of structured therapy. That could create some potentially bad associations, given some of my experiences with therapy. But, even if it was part of my current therapy – which seems decent, despite my skepticism and past experiences with the other type – I would still turn down the opportunity, I think. I want at least some things in my life not to have to have the prefix “trauma” attached to them. Trauma-sensitive yoga would probably be good for me given that yoga itself is good for just about all chronic conditions (as long as it is appropriately modified when necessary), and being publicly corrected in traditional yoga class is highly upsetting to me. I don’t take trauma yoga because of reasons. But, I don’t, so far at least, really have any deep RSD about Improv. I’d rather keep the lines unblurred between my purely positive escapes and chronic stress for as long as possible. Sometimes I just want to be conventionally unconventional. And, the first rule of trauma improv seems like it should be not to point out it is trauma improv. (Note to self: do not separately analyze only Improv-related posts for the presence of “trauma talk.” Don’t do it. There is such a thing as ignorance is bliss.)
*For those wondering:
- It was surprisingly hard to find a source that described the original Guardian retraction of its 1984 quote. I get the irony that I have to cite a media source with a known liberal bias just to prove it happened. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that I could equally have cited one with a known conservative bias, but the mainstream centrist media didn’t seem to report on the story at all.
2. It is probably unfair to single out one specific example of less-than-thorough fact checking when there have been more prominent examples in recent history. That one snuck into our household lexicon, though, because it seemed a particularly risky example given the original source material for the supposed quote and Clockwork Orange’s tried-and-true coopting of any mistake to discredit all media. To err is human, to forgive divine – but even still check references online!
3. It Can’t Happen Here is really cheap ($1.99) on Amazon Kindle! The Body Keeps the Score isn’t as bad as I feared either ($14.99).
**Again, for those wondering:
- Yes, I originally signed up for improv to address the ADHD external signs and symptoms. Yes, this means I should already have guessed we’d be going in-depth into physical Improv at some point. No, I did not consciously remember during my internal monologue. ADHD memory is weird. It has apparently disconnected all semantic network links in my brain between Improv and work, the original reason I signed up for it.
2. Yes, my Partner’s speculation was correct. Improv costs about the same per class as one of my therapy session co-pays. Make of that what you will, or maybe try Improv when you can’t afford therapy? The entire class series costs less than the cost of two pay-out-of-pocket therapy sessions if you don’t have insurance.
3. Yes, I have tried to convince my Partner to take Improv. I think he’d also be good at thinking on his feet. No, he doesn’t have ADHD. We’ve just been together a long time and it’s doubly hard to be original with someone you live with. Also, we’ll call this post a Comedy and maybe a bit of a Rebirth plot hook.