Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How It All Ties Together: A Beauty Queen, a Closet Jazz Singer and Me

The game is called "Panel of Experts."

The premise of the game is there are approximately four to five actors who play the role of an "expert" and answer questions the audience poses to them. The key to this game is that each actor must answer the audience's questions the way the character they developed for the game would answer the question, not how they would answer it in real life.

This is just one of the many games I learned while taking comedy improv classes at Chicago's Comedy Sportz Training Center. The core lesson of this game is character development - putting context around a character's life history, mannerisms and style in which they communicate. During the time I took classes at CSTC, I had the opportunity to play this game many times, including at the classes' final shows for friends, family and random strange whom happened to attend the show. Though during the course of my training I developed many characters, the two that were most memorable to me (and several others) were "Miss Georgia" and "Vivian, the Closet Jazz Singer".

Drawing Inspiration

I knew a pageant girl in high school - she was on my cheerleading squad. During our downtime the group got to hear all about her pageants, and all that went into them. We even learned how to wave like a beauty queen would at a parade as she passed by a crowd of onlookers. Miss Georgia was the first character I created. The idea of her was a hybrid of my fellow cheerleader, a documentary I had once watched about the coaching beauty pageant contestants receive and my years living in the south. There was something that fascinated me about these individuals and when it became apparent I need to develop a character for an improv show, they were they were the first things that came to mind. If I really had to analyze it, "Miss Georgia" gave me a chance to be the girl I always wanted to be. As I performed, I imagined myself as a tall, flawless beauty. I may have even thrown in a pageant wave just for good measure to make it seem like I actually knew what I was doing. Of course, since the object was to make everyone in the audience laugh I did over exaggerate the stereotypical qualities of this character.

On the flip-side, the was not like anyone I had met in real life. In some ways I felt like she embodied a lot of who I was at the time - someone who blended in and conformed on the outside, but on the inside was busting to show the world who they really were. She wanted people to see the real her vs. who they thought she was and/or who they thought she should be. At the time I was just starting to try new things (like comedy improv) and the people who were in my life were amazed by the sides of me they were seeing. I feel the secretive nature of Vivian's talents spoke to this side of me not many had seen before. Til this day I believe there is still some sense of shock when I dive into new activities, such as roller derby, but unlike back then this it's not as much as a surprise. Additionally, I don't hide my interests and talents. These days, I bring the me from the inside out for the rest of the world to see.

Bringing The Past Into The Present

I don't think about my Comedy Sportz days often. Actually, it's very far and few between that I think about them. From time-to-time Cantor D will send me a random e-mail, or post a comment on Facebook, about Miss Georgia, but over the years that too has occurred infrequently. Of course when he does jog my memory it brings back a bunch of memories that I reflect on fondly.

Of the two characters, Miss Georgia is, by far, the most popular amongst my friends. Most recently I asked why this was the case. The consensus is that she was unique and funny. There was believability in who she was. For me, she embodied things I knew I'd never be (Tall with the perfect body. Amazingly intelligent.). As I look back on her now, I don't envy her, nor do I wish to be her, like I once did. On the other hand, Vivian was my favorite. I loved that she lived this secret life and that she was so over the top to some extent - especially considering in her real life she was so plain and ordinary. Unlike Miss Georgia, I always pictured Vivian a much older lady which was a very important piece of her overall character.

In Conclusion

After asking Cantor D why he loved her so much, he commented that he, "hadn't seen her in years" and asked if she was back. I chuckled when I read this. I loved that he feel so connect to the character. I can only imagine this is how a writer would feel when they see how many people latch-on to their characters. I have to admit, his question has me thinking about how I would answer the "where are they now" question.

My writings about these characters over the past two days has been an interesting experience for me. First and foremost, it forced me to see what I could remember about them. Additionally, it forced me to further build upon their backgrounds and bring more life to character I myself and so closely connected.

As I finish off this entry I begin to consider the possibility that maybe one day I'll take the time to flesh out these individuals even more and possibly even answer Cantor D's inquiry as to where life has taken them over the past 9 years. Until I'm ready to do that, I will tuck them away as I have done before only to be revisited on special occasions.

1 comment:

  1. great post. i liked your character analysis. you really are a good writer! when you put all of yourself into your writing, it's hard not to sit up and take notice!