After 27 years some gigs stand out from others. Like meeting the clients having pre-flight supper at the Auckland International airport. We were introduced as their pilots who would be flying them up to Noumea that evening. The pleasure of watching the growing concern as I constantly took pills washing them down with quickly snatched beers to counter the “demons”. I love those long burning jokes.
The other day was a gig without beers or drugs, without even playing a character that I know will remain memorable. It was Saturday morning. 80 Religious Sisters gathered to celebrate their Order’s 150 years; The Improvisors were there to launch their weekend and facilitate and perform the re-telling of their shared history.
I was taught by Nuns; my aunt was a Sister of this particular order; to me they weren’t a mystery. They were ordinary women inspired to good work, faithful women who had lived from girl to woman in Community, dedicated to making relevant the teachings of their church. For my colleague, Anna Kennedy, however, they lived in a strange and different culture.
We took their stories – of young women breaking their news to their fathers that they were going to join the convent, or of the confession of minor rule infractions or of their struggle with the frustration of trying to educate politicians of the needs of the new migrant refugees they worked with – and represented them right there in improvised scenes. They laughed, the hall was filled with the laughter of recognition that we were performing their stories, and their history in a unique and immediate way. Here was a performance which thrived on the energy generated when neither the audience nor the performers knew what was going to happen
Our success came from creatively listening, facilitating a place where they could freely share their memories and insight into their Mission and Vision even empowering the audience to seek revenge on the misogynist Irish Bishops of their Orders Australian past. What made this memorable to the hundreds of other improv sets I’d performed was that this was so personal for these women. It was about their entire life and all they lived and believed in.
The feedback at the end of the weekend was that this had set them up for the entire weekend. They were on the same page from this session, and I feel proud that we had help set the tone for their weekend which wasn’t about politics or planning, it was simply about being together and celebrating who they are. Anna and I had managed to clearly and strikingly portray what they shared in common.
From the Sisters of St Joseph we received a simple message - “I never knew you could get so tired from laughing”
Some days it is a pleasure going to work.