Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Don't Negate

A fairly accurate depiction

While attending Moorhead Senior High School I took "Beginning Acting" seven times. School policy was that you only got credit for an elective class the first three times you took it. I didn't care; the class was a blast.

It was exactly what the name sounds like: beginning acting. It covered group projects, duo scenes, monologues, pantomime, improvisation. And it was always 6th or 7th period; a great way to finish the day with relaxation and playing theater games.

There are two distinct things I remember from that class. The first occurred while playing a game where one person would do an action, and someone else would go up do a complimentary action as if to be another part of a machine. Lee and I ran up almost immediately -- I began making a motion reminiscent of pounding a nail into a door, Lee standing in front of me making a "whoomf" sound each time I hit the nail. I was Martin Luther pounding the 95 Thesis onto the door of the cathedral; Lee was the door. From there on the rest of the day was filled with obscure historical references, most of which needed explaining as the class was half underclassmen.

The second thing I remember is what our teacher, Ms. Meyer-Larson, told us was the first rule of improv: don't negate. Improv is hard. Those who are good at it, like any professional in their own trade, make it look effortless.

Great show; great cast

Watching Who's Line is it Anyway?, Ryan Stiles, Colin Mockery, Wayne Brady, and whatever 4th person they have for the week make it look like it's the most natural thing in the world. The truth is, they all followed the first rule of improv -- they never negated one another. Negating completely destroys the flow of a scene; it destroys the idea the other person had in place of your own. It's selfish and rude. It does the same to real life.

I've been taking a break from watching Buffy and Angel recently (I think going through 5 seasons in two weeks warrants a bit of a break) and am watching Frasier again. Like many sitcoms, there are often moments of great humor that arise from hiding details, subtle lies, or misunderstandings, all of which are kept up by the various characters improving through the facade with humorous results. I've often wondered what would happen in real life if such events arised and all I can think is that invariably someone -- most likely myself -- would simply say something like "wow, you're totally lying. She's not your wife, she's just a friend that you're saying is your wife because you don't want that guy to know that you don't want to date him." Humor would not ensue and more than one person would probably find it rather insulting.

This is true for other situations, not just farces or trickery. I enjoy truths and facts. It grates at me when people say something that is either not true or only a half truth, or, worse still, when they claim something to be true as if they were well informed when in fact they're not. Spreading lies under the guise of truth is among the most harmful things I believe someone can do. At the same time, I try to stay as informed as possible. I do feel at times that perhaps I get too forceful about such things and it is something I do need to work on. I negate people when I see things that I know to be incorrect. While this is useful for politics and science, it is less so for games or simply goofing around with friends. And I do feel bad about that. Just as negating ruins the flow of an improv scene, it can ruin the fun friends are having. It's a killjoy.

I'm going to try to do that less in the future. While I do still believe it beneficial to correct people when they are declaring falsities as truths when it comes to politics or legalities,


the next time a friend needs me to answer the phone and say that I'm a director at NASA and provide them a job reference, I suppose I could do that.

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