Taking Risks Off-Stage: A New York Tale by Rhiannon Vivian


What do you do when you want to kick your life in the nuts and indulge your unending passion for improv? You book a 201 class at Upright Citizen’s Brigade, buy a flight to New York, pack your bags and shoot yourself 30,000 feet into the sky.On January 4 I landed in New York for what began as an improv odyssey, but
ended in a complete shift in lifestyle, which I came to adore. I had an extremely loose plan as to what on earth I was going to do (apart from a ton of improv) and an even looser plan as to who I was going to do it with. I’d never, ever been to a city alone to start from scratch, and I only really knew a handful of people in New York (some more tentatively than others). But the way my stomach leapt with the kind of excitement I think I feel about once every 10 years (discounting childhood – remember when that used to happen daily?) when I booked my course couldn’t be ignored. I truly believe that if I didn’t do improv, I wouldn’t take half the risks I do now.

What I will say to anyone (improviser or not) is this: if you are wondering whether or not to take a leap into the unknown off the stage – just do it.

Think about evolution – what’s been with us the longest, our heads or our heart (read gut)? What I’m saying is that stopping yourself from following your heart is conditioned. Yes we need a few caveats here and there, or we’d be monsters – I understand. But when it comes to making that leap and doing something new, wonderful and scary, the very reason for being alive, just listen to your gut. Let it shout louder than your head. Then take a run and jump off that precipice. You’ll marvel at what’s below…

The Secret Diary of Rhi, who went to New York and then had to come back. What.

– Month 1: Lived in deepest Bushwick – almost Queens! Got to realise the J train is run on the collective willpower of commuters and their associated tuts. Also Family Dollar is full of giant food and the toothbrushes in Walgreens are kept behind bars.

– Sampled some of the coldest weather ever to hit my stilton-skin. Suddenly realised that without mum’s xmas presents of ski socks, thermals, padded coat, waterproof boots and fleece lined leggings, I’d probably be dead. Or crying at the cash register in Uniqlo, cuddling All The Clothes and singing softly to my Trench Foot.

– Got Strep Throat! Mustered the energy to applaud my expensive non-NHS antibiotics with sickly hands, while swilling them down with ale. Where is my Florence Nightingale? Instead have a persistent ginger cat who wipes his eye bogies in my dinner, and is definitely a feline hipster. How do I know? His owner calls him a dick.

– Start my 201 course at UCB. Patrick Clair is a joy and delight to learn from and my class is a bunch of quick-witted, talented geeks. I do a joy skip. I slip on ice. I style it out.

– I go out and see shows in a snowstorm at night. I have to wear sunglasses in order to see. I am so cold and Stevie Wonder, but I don’t care.

– I do a poo in Macys! Two words. BUCKET. LIST.

– It’s my birthday! I spend most of it at the Brooklyn Brewery with some lovely new friends (‘I have friends in NYC!’ says my inner-monologue.)

– Month 2: I move to Fort Greene. It is like the West Hampstead of Brooklyn: full of fairy lights and mums. I feel like if I fell over here, a good-looking puppy would lift me back onto my feet with its tongue and tell a grown-up. I pay for my room in cash like a Crime Lord. My roommates are great and brew Porter. I watch a lot of Winter Olympics and continue to not understand Curling.

– I see six shows at UCB in one week. Patrick asks, ‘is everything alright at home?’

– The main difference between shows here and at home is energy. These guys go to 11. And it’s infectious.

– I make good of as many improv jams at UCBEast (hosted by the talented team, Bucky) as I can, and discover Shiner Bock beer.

– I eat American biscuits for the first time (they are scones). I find the concept hilarious. And the company delightful.

– Some of the best stuff I see goes like this: a play called Greasy Lake: Key To the City, Bucky, Christian Capozzoli’s Nutso Facto, Alan Starzinski Guys You Love To Hate, Hot For Teacher, Asssscat, Seventeen Seventy Something, Harold night (just in general at both UCB and The Magnet), and musical teams Wonderland and Mint Condition (at the Magnet).

– I successfully give four people correct directions on the Subway, independently. (My inner monologue kicks back and smokes a cigar.)

– I take 4Track classes, conceived by UCB player, Christian Capozzoli. They are ace.

– Month 3: I move to Bed-Stuy. It’s in Brooklyn on the A train and my friend describes it as Stockwell – but more ‘juicy.’ I agree. I fall over the same pothole almost daily and help an old lady across the road whose daughter now lives in Croydon. The old lady gets her tomatoes and I get to my appointment on time and all is well in this CLEARLY TINY world.

– I check out the record shops in Greenpoint and wonder what the optimum shaped human hand is for crate digging.

– I go all the way to Staten Island to visit a tugboat graveyard. It’s full of derelict ghost boats, and has ripe Tetanus potential. It’s truly wonderful.

– Museums! Empire State! Pretzels! KLF! Mexican food! I meet utterly wonderful people, each and every one wonderful for different reasons. I do not want to go home.

– I go home.

So, my ‘life nuts.’ Are they healthier for being kicked? Oh yes. But you can forget coffee or beer – I have a new addiction. New York is like crack. It’s bankrupted me, whilst simultaneously hugging me tightly to it’s crazy, coffee soaked bosom. I have inhaled its happy spores into my lungs where they are now forming joy-fungus. There’s no way out, except for the way back in.

I shall return!

1 Comment
  1. Great post! Love the ‘helpful good-looking puppy’ idea.

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