Last night, Joel and I went to see an Improv performance at BATS – Bay Area Theatre Sports – in San Francisco, where I have been taking Improv classes since May. For the past few months, 18 of the resident improvisers have broken up into teams of three based on where they live and competed in the Battle of the Bay. There are the Working Women of the Tenderloin and the Castro Bottoms, to name a couple. At the show last night, my amazing Improv teacher, Lisa Rowland, was there as part of the trio called the Mission Taquerias. While I was there to support Lisa (and the Mission) and see her in action, it was Joel’s first time seeing an Improv show and gaining a better understanding of what I’ve been gushing about for the last two months.
The Mission Taquerias were up against the Dogpatch Makers – the former being in 2nd place in the overall rankings, and the latter being in 4th. Each team was given a scene / task by the judging panel of three, or challenged by the other team, and then scored by all three judges on a scale of 1 to 4 (4 being, of course, the highest). I’ll spare you the details of the entire show, but was thrilled to see that Lisa was as hilarious and smart as I thought she would be. Even Joel, without my prompting, looked over to me at one point and said “your teacher is fucking hilarious.”
For their last game, the Mission Taquerias ask if there are any couples in the audience. The house lights go up, and as is my wont with Improv, I volunteer. Except this time, I’m not just volunteering myself, I’m also volunteering Joel. Sitting there, raising my hand, I look over at Joel whose face seems to ask “are you really doing this to me right now?” But before he can protest too much, I march up on stage, pulling him behind me.
We introduce ourselves, are welcomed by the team and cheered on by the crowd of 100+, and then asked – by Lisa – to sit in two chairs on one side of the stage. John, one of her teammates, gives us a small square of wood that has an old school bell and a buzzer glued to it.
“What we’re going to do,” Lisa explains, “is myself and one of my teammates are going to re-enact your first date, and you guys are going to tell us when we’re doing something right, that actually happened, by dinging the bell. And, when we do something wrong, you’re going to hit the buzzer and we’re going to try again until we hear the bell.”
I hit the bell DING! before pressing the button on the buzzer BUZZ; then Joel hits the bell: DING!
“Now,” Lisa adds, “I will be playing Courtney, since I think that makes the most sense, and one of my teammates here will be playing Joel.”
I point to Paul, who has an old-timey mustache pinched and rolled at either side, and say “I’m going to go with the guy with the mustache, since Joel is incapable of growing facial hair.”
Joel immediately slams on the buzzer.
I respond by hitting the bell.
Paul and Lisa take their positions by two chairs on the other side of the stage. John is crouched down beside Joel, away from the audience, and is there to help us. He reminds us that the actors cannot progress in the scene until we have either indicated that what they have said or done is correct.
LISA: To get started, please tell us where your first date was.
COURTNEY: A bar.
PAUL: A bar. Perfect.
(PAUL goes off-stage. Lights go down. Lights come up. PAUL enters.)
LISA: Hi Joel!
PAUL: Nice to see you. (They shake hands.)
LISA: You too. Thanks for meeting me here.
PAUL: Shall we sit?
PAUL: How about this table?
How about at the bar?
(PAUL and LISA sit in the two chairs. COREY, a player from the Dogpatch Makers, enters and steps between LISA and PAUL.)
COREY: Here are food menus for you both.
Here is…a – a scrap of paper with…tonight’s food offerings scrawled on it.
(Throwing up his hands.) We have no food here!
JOHN: (Under his breath) Of course not. It’s a fucking bar.
(COREY exits. BARBARA, also from the Dogpatch Makers, steps in holding what appears to be a tray.)
BARBARA: Hey folks, I’m here to take your drink order.
(BARBARA shrugs, then exits.)
PAUL: I’m just going to go up and – I’ll — I’ll probably just go order us a drink from the bar.
PAUL: What would you like to drink?
LISA: Um…a beer?
PAUL: Beer it is.
(PAUL mimes walking up to the bar, ordering two drinks, and then returns).
PAUL: I hope you don’t mind beer from the tap.
LISA: I don’t. Beer is way better this way.
PAUL: I know. (Takes a sip of his drink.) Man, I love beer.
LISA: Joel, I’m really glad you called me to arrange this date DING! and I’m excited to hang out tonight. DING!
PAUL: So am I, Courtney.
(COURTNEY and the actors look at JOEL who just sits there smug, arms crossed. COURTNEY gives him laser eyes and then loudly strikes the bell: DING!)
LISA: So, there’s something I need to tell you, just to get this all out in the open and be forthright, because that’s the kind of girl I am.
I really like you —
and I have liked you for a long time —
and I think we should go back to my place. Post-haste! —
(JOEL dramatically windmills his arm, slamming his hand down: DING!)
COURTNEY: WAIT! NO!
(PAUL and LISA stand up and run around their chairs.)
JOHN: If that’s not what happened, hit the buzzer!!
COURTNEY: Well, we did go back to my place, but it wasn’t–
(PAUL and LISA run off stage. JOEL and the audience are roaring with laughter. COURTNEY is, uncharacteristically, speechless. Lights go out).
(Lights come back up to wild applause and laughter. Judges each hold up a score card reading “4” — a perfect score. COURTNEY has covered her face with both hands.)
After the show, the perfect score sealing the Mission Taquerias’ victory and sending them into the semi-finals, the team comes up and thanks Joel and I, and a few audience members even compliment us.
“Somehow, for some reason,” I reply to them, “it all started off as embarrassing for Joel, and ended up being embarrassing for me.”
“Oh no no,” one guy tells us, “you guys are just fun.”
During the car ride home, Joel apologizes profusely. “It wasn’t until we were walking off the stage,” he assures me, “that I realized everyone probably got the wrong impression of you.”
The English prude in me has taken over my whole person. “Yeah, thanks Joel,” I reply. “All I did was crack a joke about you not being able to grow facial hair and liking beer, and in return, you made people think I put out on the first date. WHICH I DID NOT.”
“But it was funny,” he says.
It was. In fact, it was hilarious. It ended perfectly; it’s just…it was at my expense – which is something, anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m not used to.
And then, parroting back to me the lessons I have learned from Improv that I’ve conveyed to him over the past several weeks, Joel says “you know, Courtney, you can’t take anything personally on stage. And, I don’t know if you know this, but in Improvisation, you must always say yes. You must always say YES, and never no to your partner.”
You’re also supposed to make your partner look good, I want to tell him; but I suppose that’s a lesson for another time.
After a long pause, as we near my apartment — where Joel will now enjoy as much sex as he did on our first date [Ed. Note: NONE] — Joel tries to break the tension.
“Hey,” he says, “remember when I came along to support you and your Improv and ended up calling you a whore in front of your teacher?”
“Yes,” I tell him. “Yes.“