The Outcasts of Valley Spring
It’s been a few weeks but here is a short one:
Master Classes can be a very interesting thing. When I was in college, the opportunity to ask and learn from a professional was always a treat. I remember when I was a sophomore, we brought in The Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) out of New York (I think) and they had improv. classes and a really great show. Now if you don’t know, UCB is the same comedy troupe that Amy Poehler began with. The touring troupe that visited Augustana had members including: Charlie Todd (Improv. Everywhere), Ellie Kemper (Blow Job Girl, Bridesmaids) and Bobby Moynihan (SNL, Bro Rape). I actually took a class with Bobby and did a scene with a a very recent ex-girlfiend at the time. I think there were good parts to the scene if you overlooked the horror and blasphemy of what actually happened on stage. It was the worst. Worse then the time I decided that a few members of BNI (Augie’s Improv. Troupe) should do a game on the legendary IO (Improv. Oylmpics) stage in Chicago on a class trip. And believe me, the game of freeze was awful but the scene that Bobby saw was like something you would find at the bottom of a sewer that’s under a dump. And that is all I can think about when I see Bobby on TV:
“Oh wow Bobby made it on SNL! Man that was a bad scene…”
Like anything with sociology and theatre, you take the good with the bad.
Well, as fate may have it, the tides have turned in my life and I teach aspire artists. As we may all know, a lot of bad performance has to happen before an acceptable performance happens. I just hope every time we take the stage the kids see a good performance from me. I don’t know what I would do if this happened:
8 year-old: Leigh…yeah…what were you doing out there?
Leigh: My part. Didn’t you hear them laughing?
8: Out of pity you mean?
I do feel pressure to be as perfect as possible because the kids always have their eyes on both Kevin and I. Doing Master Classes amps up the feeling because we’re teaching what we know or claim to know and it would be a poor practice to teach someone something that is wrong.
Valley Spring is a sleepy rural community just outside the suburbia of Brandon, SD (part of the Sioux Falls metro-area). The school building is an amalgamation of the original school building and a series of add-ons/renovations that have happened over the years. The school is just k-5 and hold less then 300 students and it is actually easy to get lost in the place. The building has been cut up so many times that, when we arrived, we had a very intense tour on how to navigate the hallways.
As the week began, Kevin and I had to decide what we felt comfortable teaching. With the younger ones we did a lot of games and minor movement exercises and with the older ones we decided to teach some serious stuff. Kevin did some choreography and stage combat (both of which were super fun). I taught tumbling, stretching and some trips and slips. I was a really good experience being a student of Kevin’s as he taught his combat techniques and dance. When you’re on tour with the main objective of teaching a show, we rarely get a chance to delve deeper into what our skill set is as artists and with only 20 hours a week to get a show up, things have to move quickly. Kevin gave those kids the sweat and they loved it.
It was fun watching the kids tumble. Some had gymnastics training and some had never done a somersault. In some cases I had to spent extra time with the tumblers and talk them through it. Sometimes it was safety concerns (landing on their heads or not tucking right) but most times it was just a simple matter of confidence. Believing in themselves that they could do this. With my time at Dell’Arte I gained a huge amount of personal confidence in my body and person. First with my physical presence as a very tall person and second with the capabilities of my body. I suffer from scoliosis (acute curvature of the spine) and had been told since the day I was diagnosed that I was fragile and easily hurt. I never thought I would be able to do acrobatics because I was afraid of hurting myself. And as it turned out I was able to run and jump with the best of them contorting my long frame in all kinds of impossible ways. Of course I fell down a lot, bruised myself, bleed, sprained a few things and knocked my head on a wall or two but gained the skill and confidence to be willing to be hurt in order to learn something. Getting up is the most important part of falling down.
After the combat workshop, we were talking with some teachers in the hallway and some kids just starting slapping each other and laughing hysterically. Kevin, myself and the teachers gasped in horror of this street brawl until Kevin realized they were showing off what they learned. We gave them some applause for a show well done. I wish we could go back and watch as the teachers are helpless in a sea of tripping and slap happy kids.
As Kevin and I had lunch one day in the teachers lounge by ourselves (which was in the basement), I was suddenly reminded of a story I read in high school called “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”. It’s a western short story written by Francis Bret Harte about various people exiled from the town of Poker Flat for many reasons as told by a gambler John Oakhurst. I’m not entirely sure why because the events of the story take a turn for the worst and Kevin and I were definitely at our best (check the link at the bottom).
Allen, Sioux Falls, Wall and North Platte are coming quick.
With Love, All the Best, Travel Safe
Outcasts of Poker Flat: http://www.bartleby.com/310/4/2.html
Improv. Everywhere: http://improveverywhere.com/ (Charlie Todd)
Bobby Moyihan: http://bobbymoynihan.blogspot.com/
Ellie Kemper: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellie_Kemper