To my fellow improvisers in Toronto
I signed up for my first classes at Second City a bit over a year ago. I was still in the midst of recovering from surgery, but I was stronger and healthier than I had been in years and was itching to get back into the arts. I also was relatively new to Toronto and, having been mostly bed bound for the last few years, my social circle wasn’t exactly broad. I figured that a short term class with a flexible makeup policy was the perfect way to ease back into the world on multiple levels. I was planning to just sign up for a writing class, but when I went to check out online, I saw that there was a multi-class discount. I desperately wanted to try improv, but I was nervous that I wouldn’t be up for it physically. Still, on a spur of the moment decision, I added improv level A to my cart and then spent the following weeks leading up to the class panicking about what I had gotten myself into.
In a previous post I wrote about the challenges of transportation within the city. At the time of this story, however, I was often well enough to take the subway. I wore my neck brace, but didn’t need a walker. Because of that, I wasn’t too concerned about issues of accessibility. But when I arrived at the Second City training centre and saw that their elevator wasn’t functional, I started to feel the stirrings of panic. My class was on the 3rd floor and it was starting in 5 minutes.
Determined, I started up the stairs. I had to pause multiple times, sweating, short of breath, and feeling my heart rate and blood pressure respond in all sorts of fun ways to the torture I was putting it through, knowing that I would be arriving, exhausted, with my symptoms already flared, to a 3 hour improv class with complete strangers that I was already unsure I’d be able to manage.
Finally, I made it up. I staggered into my class, late and self conscious. Luckily, it was a hot day, so everyone else was sweating too.
After the class, I sat on a bench outside, needing to rest halfway through the 600 meter walk to the subway. I called my parents who were anxiously waiting to hear if I was still alive and told them that it was true, that the class was way too much for me physically. I told them that there were issues I hadn’t even thought to anticipate, like me not being able to turn my head, or get down on the ground, or lift my arms up high. But I also told them that I loved every second of it, and was determined to make it work.
Between my first and second class I was more symptomatic than I had been since before my surgery. My whole body was in excruciating pain, and I spent most of week in bed, desperately hoping to recover enough to make it to the next class.
As the term went on, however, my body started to get used to what I was putting it through. Not only that, but I started to make big strides in terms of my recovery. Games like clap focus and word association helped me with the cognitive impairments I had been dealing with. I was suddenly able to keep track of conversations and sounds in ways that I hadn’t been able to in years. Other games like freeze, along with the need to climb up stairs to reach my class helped me improve my physical strength and stamina. At the end of the term I happily signed up for level B.
I started to dream about future possibilities. I had grieved over my performance career years earlier when I knew I was dealing with a lifelong illness, and thought I had come to terms with the loss, but I was realizing that with the combination of my newly improved health post surgery and the flexibility of improv, not to mention my love for the art form and all things comedy, this might be something that I could actually pursue.
In my first week of level C the elevator up to the training centre was fixed which turned out to be very timely. My symptoms had started to worsen again and that very week, on my way home from class, I fell and my ankle turned into a bowling ball that, 7 months later, still hasn’t completely healed.
I arrived at my next class with an air cast and a cane and tried my hardest to participate from a chair. Luckily I had an incredible teacher at the time who went out of his way to include me.
With the help of a walker, I made it through levels C and D, and I graduated to a cane in level E. I was getting more and more immersed in comedy and improv, but I started to run into roadblocks. I wanted to go and see shows. My friends would go out together, finding workshops and jam sessions and watching our teachers perform at Bad Dog, SoCap, and Comedy Bar. Every class began with a discussion about the improv we had seen that week. And I’d sit quietly, with nothing to offer, because I hadn’t seen any shows. I couldn’t. None of the venues hosting them were accessible. I was, and am, barred from these spaces, these shows.
Conservatory auditions were looming and I wanted to audition, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. A-E classes were one thing, but conservatory was serious. It was a dream. But was it even possible for me, with my fluctuating levels of ability? Could I be on stage with a cane or walker? Could I even physically get to the stage if I couldn’t do the stairs? And could I allow myself to take improv and comedy seriously, considering I couldn’t even physically enter the majority of comedy venues in Toronto?
My extremely supportive and wonderful level E teacher assured me that improv is for everyone, so I auditioned. To my surprise and elation, I got in.
So now I’m in Con 1. It’s amazing. I leave every week feeling challenged and excited and I can’t wait to continue learning and playing with the amazing individuals in my class. And I consider myself so, incredibly, lucky to have the opportunity to learn at Second City.
But guys, I want to be able to learn at other places too. I want to be able to see other shows. I want to be able to participate in other jams and perform across the city and support my friends and experience the amazing improv scene that exists in Toronto.
And more than that, I want improv to truly be accessible for everyone. I can’t imagine how many other people are out there in this city who might find a home for themselves in improv, both in the audience and on stage. People with interesting and unique POV’s and physical quirks who can add to the art form. People who can benefit from it, like I have. People who currently don’t even entertain the idea, because they have never been able experience it live in the first place.
We’re a community of problem solvers. Of yes, and-ers. So let’s get on this, okay?