That was the exact suggestion that came up during the May 26th Jackpot show. Dave Dennison and I were tagged as the starting players.
I think my brain checked out at that point – it went for a cookie in our lobby and promised to wait for me until after the scene.
Now, long after the show, I can think of a thousand different ways to use those suggestions.
For example “filthy” and “a death occurs” reminds me of the grave digger scene Hamlet. Thank you brain for making me sound sophisticated and erudite!
Or even that fake 30’s gangster movie clip from “Home Alone”, where a well-heeled mobster growls “Keep the change you filthy animal” before a barrage of tommy-gun fire. A gritty classic gangster scene would have used those suggestions nicely!
But on stage in front of an audience, my brain said “filthy…sounds X-rated. That’s all I got. Good luck pal!”
What followed was a surprising, unique, delightful and unquestionably filthy scene involving a very, VERY old couple, tea…and a ball gag.
And yes, a death occurred.
(I won’t go into a detailed description, because it would probably earn BATS a parental advisory alert)
The scene surprised the heck out of me, out of Dave, and out of the audience. It was fun, filthy, and apparently an audience favorite. Someone has mentioned that scene to me at least once a day, every day for the last week.
(Huge kudos to Dave who was absolutely brilliant!)
Luckily that “gulp” moment (fear and cluelessness of what to do with those suggestions) caused my improv muscles to kick in. I started with the obvious things in front of me, and trusted that Dave and I would find a way to make everything work together. He pulled out two chairs, and we sat. He started sipping tea, I started sipping tea. When some very suggestive cookie eating began we were off to the filthy-town races. Patiently, step-by-imperceptibly-tiny-step, we found a way. We cluelessly ventured our way from “is there any way to make these things work together” into a delightful, memorable scene.
Take that Hamlet!
Ironically, the cluelessness actually helps me…a lot. It forces me to just look at what’s right in front of me, and let the bigger plan of making a scene sit quietly in the background.
It’s the discipline of improv, and it’s exhilarating.
Personally speaking, it’s something I wish I had more of OFF stage. I wish I could say that I bring that action-in-the-face-of-cluelessness to every aspect of my life…but I don’t. In real life, when I’m tackling something I’ve never done before or a project seems overwhelming, my brain excels at derailing my efforts. With no live audience, I have the luxury of do-overs, edits, or not doing anything. Not an option on stage – a performer who doesn’t perform isn’t exactly in high demand.
Even writing this, there’ve been a few times when I had no idea what to write next. My brain generously offers up a plethora of ideas to derail me. “Writing about a heavily-suggestive filthy scene between two ancient people, huh? Sounds risky. Maybe you should go scrub the kitchen baseboards instead – we haven’t done that in a while.”
But I remind myself of that scene, of taking tiny, imperfect, clueless steps, and trusting that I can find a way to navigate what comes after. I remind myself that cluelessness has a benefit – it makes me downshift and only pay attention to the next step, instead of focusing on the mountain top.
Someone once pointed out to me that James Bond has a terrible track record with plans. He’s always a step behind for most of the film, always gets caught by villains, and he always faces overwhelming odds (that he never expected) in the third act. And yet he always wins, making adjustments after those imperfect tiny first missteps.
If any of that “brain derailing” sounds familiar, welcome to the party – you’re amongst friends! I hear the same thing from friends, colleagues and students. It seems like most people operate like that, but few notice, and fewer still know how to work through it.
With that in mind, I’d like to invite you to join me in bringing some of that clueless magic off the stage and into real life. Let’s remind each other to just take a small, simple, clueless step when those “gulp” moments occur.
Let’s all be a little more James Bond. And let’s all get filthy, in the best magically-clueless way possible.