Improvisers are trained to be grateful for life’s gifts. We feel the greatest thing you do for your scene partners is to give them a “gift,” an offer toward the creation of the scene. An actor might gift her partner with a character trait, “Every time you talk about your job your tic acts up.” Or perhaps she might speak to their relationship, “You’re the best big sister ever! I even forgive you for steal both my first AND my second husband!” A gift can even take the form of an espresso from hell. “Look out! A demented frog just hopped out of your caramel macchiato!” These are all considered gifts.
When an actor is offered a “gift” in a scene, the encouraged response is to accept it and add to it. (This is the famous “Yes And,” the two magical words of improv.)
“Every time you talk about your job, your tic acts up.”
“I know. I suck at being an eyeball surgeon.”
“You’re the best big sister! I even forgive you for steal both my first AND my second husband!”
“You’re lucky you found Hank.”
“Yes, if it weren’t for your thieving ways, I would have never met my third husband.”
“Speaking of Hank, I have something I need to confess to you, Rebecca...”
“Look out! A demented frog just hopped out of your caramel macchiato!”
“And it’s holding up a tiny sign that reads, ‘Kiss me!’”
The take-home lesson here is gifts are good. Accept all gifts. Feed them. Appreciate them. You would think this philosophy would be easy to implement, but surprisingly it’s not. The thing with gifts – in improv and in life – is that they involve change. And change tends to be scary. What the hell are you supposed to do with a coffee-wallowing amphibian? Where is that scene going to go? Yikes. Scary. The impulse is to return the gift. “That’s not a frog. It’s a green sugar cube.” (Yawn. Sigh. Bummer.)
Perhaps by now you’re starting to see where I’m going with this overly extended metaphor: Though difficult to recognize and accept, life’s gifts are good. I’d say “Uh..duh!?” except for my frequency in forgetting this basic tenet over the course of my life. And, plus, if I said “Uh..duh?!” then it would be kind of like I was answering my own question, which is kind of like talking to myself, which I do all the time but don’t want you to know about.
One of the best things about being a 43-year-old woman is my enhanced ability to recognize and appreciate life’s gifts. When I was a youngster (read that in a shaky, elderly voice please,) I thought that life threw gifts at your willy-nilly and would continue to do so ad infinitum. (Even now I appreciate the gift of being able to use the words “willy-nilly” and ad infinitum in the same sentence. I wouldn’t have savored that back in my 20’s!) I sigh to think how many life experiences and relationships I was gifted with, which I greedily opened, played with once, and then tossed aside in order to go on to the next shiny package. Those experiences and relationships tend not to come back again when treated with such youthful foolhardiness, unless you’re very, very lucky.
I love being able to cherish the gifts life throws at me now. Maybe there won’t be another chance to laugh ourselves silly. Maybe there won’t be another good hug. Maybe there won’t be another opportunity to imagine and dream. Maybe there won’t be another moment like this again between us, together.
In short, gifts are good. Accept all gifts. Feed them. Appreciate them. And always, always, always kiss the demented frog.