When you’ve been performing for over three decades with some of the most talented improvisers in the world, you’d assume there would be some moving, memorable moments on stage.
But none can top a moment that happened in the minutes following a late-night show on a Saturday in August, 2016.
For the first time, BATS board member and current interim Managing Director Ana Nelson shares that moment, and all the moments that led up to it, with those who didn’t see it first-hand.
BATS and the BATS community have been a central part of my life since I started taking classes here almost three years ago. Last year, they became even more important to me when I publicly came out as gay; indeed, improv was a central part of my personal journey to uncovering my sexuality. My improv friends were a critical resource for support and trust during this process, and I chose to use the BATS stage to share my news with the world, using the voice that improv helped me find.
My first few improv classes provided a safe space to be imperfect and vulnerable, a total beginner. Here, I found a place dedicated to play and free of shame. I had never experienced such an environment before; this created a sense of possibility and a perfect greenhouse for healing and exploration.
After nurturing you with gentle stretches of pure play, improv classes move onto scenework, like lifting weights in the emotion gym. Every life situation you can imagine, and plenty you never would have, turn up in your scenework. You play characters of all ages, attitudes, and genders, yet you bring yourself to each character you play; often, these characters expose aspects of yourself that you don’t normally share with the world, or even with yourself. Exploring your own emotional reactions to these situations provides one of the great joys, and great challenges, of improv. While performing improv is mostly about sharing your characters’ reactions with your scene partners and the audience, a big part of practicing improv (especially early on) is exploring the improviser’s own reactions. Many people study improv not with the intention to perform, but with the desire to both learn about and work on themselves through the practice of play.
I didn’t discover that I was gay during a scene.
I uncovered clues that my assumption of heterosexuality was more about subconsciously seeking approval than following my heart. As the cognitive dissonance of denial ratcheted into my consciousness, improv gave me the resources to finally accept who I was, surrounded by the love and support of friends and community. A few weeks after blurting out “I’m feeling conflicted about my sexuality” to a troupe-mate and friend, I stood on the BATS stage with a book in my hands, preparing to read the only scripted lines I have ever spoken on that stage.
As soon as I knew I would be coming out, I could think of no better place to do so than on the BATS stage. The BATS stage has been my happy place since I first stepped upon it, and I had confidence I would find its community overwhelmingly supportive.
As it happened, my Cave Match troupe Grendel’s Grinches was scheduled to perform in a special late-night show as part of BATS’ annual Summer Improv Festival. I had been inspired by Beowulf and Viking tales to tell stories set in an Anglo-Saxon Mead Hall, with shield-maidens and horns of mead. At the end of our show, my troupe-mates knew I would be performing a short poem within this style, but not what its content would be. This marked my transition to a new identity. In many ways, I was starting over at the age of 37. I would have to learn how to date, and love, from scratch. Imperfect, vulnerable and a total beginner. It was scary, but not overwhelming. And I was home.
And on my journey as a thespian.
I also learned, I was a lesbian.
Thank you Ana, for sharing such a wonderful moment with us. And thank you for all the moments to come that you’ll share as performer, artist and friend.
As the the Artistic Director for BATS, I am humbled, grateful, and yes – proud beyond measure that we played a part in helping you finding your true voice.