Repost from my blog entry at http://www.nationalimprovnetwork.com/the-improv-retreat/
I would like to start this by saying I grew up in the desert. December for me is 60s and a cactus with some lights. May not sound as romantic to you, but to me it’s the bees knees. It was also that December when I got a Facebook message from Rick Grove and Lauren Corl telling me we must go to Wisconsin (which was under piles and piles of snow) for the Improv Retreat with the one and only Tara DeFrancisco – who I had met for the first time on stage as a part of her show DeFrancisco. While I would like to say I thought long and hard about the snow, before I knew it, I clicked the link to pay and off my pay check went.
I was more than happy to spend my weekend in the woods with 275 other improvisors at B’nai B’rith Beber Camp in Mukwonago Wisconsin. The Improv Retreat started as a dream of Tara’s to help bring improvisors to the Midwest for a weekend of workshops, art, and the love of improv. It’s summer camp for adults who like to make things up. And maybe dance in the woods. And hug.
The weekend finally came as Lauren, Brandon and I picked up Rick from the airport and drove towards the land of cheese. Armed with snacks, cider (did not drink it on the way there mom), and Starbucks, we spent the ride trying to guess who was teaching what, where we were sleeping, and how much bug spray we may need. Rick, Lauren, and I came from The Torch Threatre in Phoenix, so we were even more excited/nervous of the different improvisors we were going to meet.
Upon arrival, I was in awe of how green and big the camp was as we walked to Crown Hall to receive our bunks and schedules. To greet us was Tara, looking excited and happy to see everyone. If you don’t know Tara, she has the ability to make you feel like a rockstar with just a hug. She made us all feel welcomed as we walked up the hill to our bunks. On the way down the 72 steps (which we walked up and down every morning), I started running into familiar faces from my last summer in Chicago, including my level 1 teacher Higbee (who had the same whit and charisma. Big fan.)
Lauren and I quickly got situated in our bunks, covered ourselves with bug spray, and went back to Crown Hall for announcements. During camp, everyone would meet one to two times a day to talk about events, policies, and to laugh. The camp had everything schedule from the moment we got there, to the moment we left. While it left us little time for free time, it also gave you the option to stay active and enjoy your surroundings.
Included in our schedules were three workshops, shows each night, shows during the day, smores, food, and my favorite- Joe Bill talking under a tree. While technically it was by a flag pole, to be given the opportunity to talk with Joe Bill about his traveling and experiences in improv is something I will not forget.
The camp experience is something I will not forget mainly because it took you out of your comfort zone. From each of my workshops they emphasized being here in this moment-this is what matters. And I know we say this over and over again as improvisors, but we sometimes need to be reminded to get out of our comfort zones. In Fear No More, Nnamdi Ngwe told us to look in our fellow actor’s eyes and fall in love. In the past, I’ve had trouble with eye contact and this was intimidating. However, in this moment, you are here and can’t look away.
In Organic Games with Higbee, we literally played childhood games to find patterns in the play happening and how we were going to support it without saying HEY SUPPORT THIS. For a moment, I had to remind myself how to play leapfrog. In Fireball Theory with Jill Bernard, we focused on reacting without telling your partner their nana is crazy, and saying the first thing to come to mind (banana banana) by remaining active in your play.
Stepping out of your comfort zone spilled over in other areas of camp. With a large group, it can be intimating at times to go up and talk to people. In reality, everyone at camp was very welcoming and said hey jump right in! For me I got to be a part of my first rap jam, play with improvisors from all over the world, do handstands by the lake, and play Merlin (sorry Robert and Colin if I messed up the name).
Camp gave me the refresher boost I needed. It rocked its first year and can’t wait to go back to the woods. It was awesome.