Performing Teaching

Just to be clear, I’m not the president of OutRegis because I know the most about improv, have the most theatre experience, or instill the most fear in the freshmen. I’m the president because Janna said so. (And the rest of the cast agreed, and because I put in the work, and because– let’s face it– I can be a little scary.) Seriously, though, I know as much about improv and sketch comedy as the rest of the group. Which is to say, a moderate amount. I’m just really good at authoritatively looking like I know more. It’s a useful skill when you’re thrust into a situation that demands you know more than you do. So, ladies and gentlemen, here I present to you a step-by-step guide to performing the role of teacher.

1. Do your research. You can’t look like you know more without actually knowing a little bit more. Skim a book or website on the subject you’re teaching. For instance, I skimmed Impro by Keith Johnstone, several improv websites, and emails from Janna. As I did so, I built a mental library of smart-sounding phrases.

2. Parrot. At your meetings, repeat the phrases you have stored in the performance lobe of your brain. Say them with grandiose authority, only citing your sources when it makes you sound more authoritative. Example: “That’s absolutely true; I read it in Impro. How many books have you read on improvisational theatre? None? Then can it.”

3. Make them parrot. If public school taught me anything, it’s that repeating notes back to the teacher is undeniable proof that you’ve internalized their lessons on a deep level. So make the group repeat your own stolen lessons to you frequently. Of course, this means you might have to memorize them yourself so you can help them along when they forget a rule of improv.

4. Do cover-up research. Inevitably, you will have at least one student who is unsatisfied with trite, easy-to-remember rules and will want you to elaborate. “What exactly does ‘play characters at the top of their intelligence’ mean?” they whine. “What are you saying when you tell us to ‘tap into everyday intelligence’?” This might require you to return to your source material and explore the issue deeper so you can keep up your authoritative performance. Make sure you truly understand it so it only takes one session of explaining to shut them up.

5. Repeat. Continue researching, distributing, faking, and more researching as the year goes on. It’s tiring, but it’s the requirement for playing teacher.

Just be careful. Over time, you might realize that quite a bit of this information starts to take root in your brain. You might find yourself becoming hopelessly aware of how little and how much you know at the same time and furthering your research in a desperate attempt to sate your ever-growing thirst for real knowledge. You might even find yourself excitedly sharing some of your findings with the group to keep up your front. Then, one day, you realize that Judith Butler theory you voluntarily read for the privilege of name-dropping her was right. You have become what you played at being. You are a teacher.

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