Scenes from a Family Show

Part I. Romance

  • Game: Emo Zones
  • Grabs (emotions): romantic, snobby, existential crisis

I take the stage with my scene partner to rehearse a game for an improv comedy show for children. My first job is to establish a relationship with my scene partner. One of the tenets of improv—or specifically, one of the tenets of “good” improv—is relationship. Define the relationship between the characters you and your scene partner are playing at the top of the scene, decide how you feel about each other, and dive into the scene informed by the relationship you’ve established.

I dived into improv after my last relationship ended, channeling my post-break up energy into commuting an hour each way to take introductory improv classes in a haunted school building. I have not been in a relationship since I started doing improv and have never considered the relationship between those two things until I wrote this sentence down. A few years have passed and here I am, a deeply single, childless woman who has invested her time, energy, and remaining fertile years into studying and now, performing, improvised comedy.

I turn to my scene partner, who becomes the world’s greatest cupcake baker, and I become a supportive friend and fledgling cupcake entrepreneur. The stage is divided into three zones, each zone with a designated emotion as suggested by our teammates: romantic, snobby, and existential crisis. My scene partner and I are standing in what is now the romantic zone, and I feel the one thing you are never supposed to feel when doing improv—prepared.

This is practically cheating. If I can be said to be a have a “type” in my previous romantic relationships, that type would be “huge snob in the midst of an existential crisis.” I’ve spent my entire adult life rehearsing for this scene.

All I have to do is walk back and forth across the stage, re-enacting the petty one-upmanships, oblique flirtations, and emotional unravellings that comprise my romantic history. The scene concludes appropriately with my scene partner calling out to me, “I just don’t understand you,” a PTSDingly familiar line that has been lobbed at me numerous times throughout the years, while I collapse in a sniveling heap in the existential crisis zone, replying, “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

Scene is called here—at the exact same point where all my previous relationships have ended—and our teammates applaud for the fine piece of make-believe they’ve been presented with.

Part II. Marriage

  • Game: Forgetful Actor
  • Grab (type of relationship): married

I step downstage with my scene partner, performing an improv comedy show for children. Our director turns to the audience of children and asks for a type of relationship our characters could have. “Married!” a child shouts, and the other children giggle in response. “Married!” our director shouts to my scene partner and I.

My character is now married to my scene partner’s character. My body instinctively assumes the pose of one who is married—down on one knee with one arm outstretched, palm facing up towards my partner’s face, and the other arm raised slightly above my head giving a courtly wave. “BETROTHED!” I address my partner, bellowing from my deepest register.

I beseech of my betroth’ed how I may serve them and indulge them a glass of 2% milk from the fridge. I make overt and dramatic requests of what my partner needs from me and proceed to really make a meal out of fulfilling their requests, the way I presume is done in a marriage.

And the children laugh. Oh, how they laugh at the very idea of my being married and what I think being married is.

Part III. Children

  • Game: scraps
  • Grabs: randomly selected phrases read from scraps of paper the audience filled out prior to the show

I step forward towards my scene partner, a few scenes later during the same improv comedy show for children. My scene partner has his arm stretched above his head, gripping what is clearly the leash that is obviously connected at the other end to what is undoubtedly a pet duck in mid-flight. In response to happening upon my friend walking his pet duck Quackers, I kneel down to introduce my friend to the pet I’ve been walking, an earthbound goose named Charlene.

I pet Charlene on the top of her little goose head, explaining how I take Charlene for walks every day. In mid-sentence I reach for a scrap of paper from the basket of suggestions, speaking the words “…because I…” I unfold the piece of paper and read aloud the phrase as written, a phrase chosen and written down by a child audience member, completing my sentence with, “… don’t have children.”

And oh, how the children laughed. The children laughed and laughed at the very real truth of my not having children. I hugged my pet goose close, justifying my previous statement with, “Charlene here is all I have,” and the children howled. They howled and shrieked at what is my very real game plan—to adopt an animal to nurture to fill the absence of a much-desired child and the aching void of any sort of intimate relationship with another sentient being.

And when the show ends the children laugh and applaud and then they leave, hand in hand with their parents and associated adults, many of whom are the same age—if not younger—than me. They continue on to their next family activity while I head home to the apartment I occupy alone, stopping first at Trader Joe’s to get a frozen pizza for myself and my invisible goose Charlene.

Created By
Dina Noto


Created with images by Alexas_Fotos - "different nationalities children human globe worldwide figures"

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