For SPIT’s recent 19th Birthday, SPIT and Third World Improv Founder Gabe Mercado shares an essay he wrote last March about why, after almost 2 decades, he insists on performing and teaching this art form.
I ask myself the question when I look at my mother from whom I inherited my vocabulary and love for the written word. She is an author in her seventies who still manages to easily churn out about two books a year.
I ask myself the question when I look at my friends from the recording industry that I left more than a decade ago who are still writing and releasing music, this time produced independently and released on shoe string budgets.
I ask myself the question when I watch my theater contemporaries writing, producing and acting on film and television and internet projects.
Why do I insist on improv?
Why do I insist on dedicating the bulk of my creative and artistic energy on such a specialized tiny niche in the theatrical arts?
Writers make poetry and stories and essays, sculptors create in stone or sand or metal, painters have their canvasses – and their art goes way beyond how long they live and where they live.
But what does an improv actor do and what does an improv actor create? After that magical burst of spontaneous inspiration, what’s left for posterity, for history, for remembrance?
Why do I insist on an art form that is so fleeting, so ephemeral and so, well, difficult to encapsulate? Why do I persist in a performance art that can be truly transformative and truthful and touching, yet can only often be recounted by audience members with the vague waving of hands and the expression “you had to be there?”
And somewhere there, perhaps, is some of the reason why I do what I do.
In improv, you have to be there.
Just as a dance cannot exist apart from the dancer, an improviser cannot improvise a scene without an audience which serves as a demanding, sneering and jealous muse and partner. And it is that dance between audience and actor, that special moment when they see eye to eye and breathe each other’s air and manage to not step on each other’s feet — that’s when the magic happens. And it’s moments like that that improvisers create and live for and would absolutely die for.
You have to be there. Heart, mind, soul, body, being.
And in this day and age where everything is on demand and downloadable and depersonalized, I hold on to improv because it reminds me of and rewards me with moments that can only happen when I am completely and unflinchingly living and playing in the present.
Just like in love and parenting and friendship and food and laughter and comfort and all good things in life — you have to be there.