Last spring, towards the end of April, I boarded an overnight bus at 11pm — just me and the backpack my mom had loaned me for the semester. One uncomfortably upright night of sleep later, I found myself in a country where nobody knew me, and I didn’t know their language.
And I spent one week there.
This is how that went.
The country in question was The Netherlands, and, although I arrived at Amsterdam Sloterdijk Station, just outside the capital itself, I stayed with a family in Heemstede, south of the markedly smaller city of Haarlem.
Getting from Amsterdam to Heemstede on my own, at dawn, turned out to be a bit trickier than expected. Even in English, the ticketing machine was exceptionally confusing, and the validation system was something my Morning Brain was not ready to absorb. Once I boarded the train, anxiety hummed within me as the Fare Enforcement Officer made his way up the aisle, for fear of not having done it correctly. Thankfully, the officer didn’t bat an eye, nor did I have to open my mouth and make Dutch come out.
I wasn’t in the clear, though. There was still the matter of getting off the train.
“Don’t Think”, a UCB School of Improv motto, is a simple phrase, yet a way of life for its students and members. But, let’s back up a moment; this first sentence has most likely already created some questions in your head.
What is UCB?
What the heck is “improv”?
What do you mean “Don’t Think”? I am a student; I need to think to graduate!
To begin, improv, short for improvisation, is a form of unscripted acting; it’s when actors go off the page and trust their instincts and their scene partners to form a full scene (a story with a beginning, middle, and end) from scratch. Many movies, mostly comedy (but some dramatic) have actually used improvised dialogue in their final cuts, so, odds are, you have already seen improv in action but never knew it. UCB, short for Upright Citizens Brigade, is a school that trains actors, comedians, and even folks in need of a fun hobby, how to be successful improvisers.
Alright, so improvisers make up scenes as they go… ok… wouldn’t they need to THINK to do that? The answer is no. Thinking is actually the death of good improv, or at least that’s what I’m beginning to understand as I trudge my way through UCB’s frightening, yet exhilarating, Improv 101 course.