This is my great-grandmother.
Her name was Florence Bates.
She was an astonishingly courageous human being.
Born in 1888, Florence became one of the first woman lawyers in Texas in 1912.
That would be a full eight years before women could even vote.
In 1912, she got a divorce. Back then, that made her a straight-up renegade.
She began an acting career at age 50 and proceeded to appear in over 65 movies.
Clearly, this was a woman who lived big and took risks her whole life.
Having been a lawyer in Texas and then an antiques dealer in Mexico, she and her second husband, (who was by all reports the love of her life), moved to Los Angeles where they opened a bakery. All that and she could bake too. Damn.
As the Hollywood story goes, once in Los Angeles, Florence did her neighbor the favor of driving her to an audition at The Pasadena Playhouse. Florence had no intention of auditioning herself but apparently the director saw her in the audience and requested that she audition as well.
And, we all know where this is going.. Florence ended up getting the part.
For all the Fame lovers out there, Florence was the Leroy of her time.
I invite you to enjoy the quintessential audition-stealing scene.
I don't know who this actress is, or if she ever worked again, but this scene has secured her a position on the list of the Greatest Protagonists of All Time.
Have at it.
I imagine Florence's version of inadvertently robbing her friend of her desired role was not quite as brutal. And involved less pelvic thrusting. But who knows, she was renegade.
Anyway, where was I...
Ah yes. Florence was cast in a play at the Pasadena Playhouse during which she was scouted for the movies. Her first film was Hitchcock’s Rebecca in which she played the first of many unapologetically horrible snobs, a type she played again and again.
As luck would have it, Florence's very first film won the Academy award for Best Picture.. How pissed was that neighbor after that, I wonder..
From all that I’ve heard from those who knew her, Florence was nothing like the characters she played in the movies. To the contrary, she was warm, kind and bohemian as all get out.
Florence Bates died in 1954, long before I was born. I never got to meet her in person and yet I feel very connected to her.
Maybe it's because I find her wildly inspiring.
Or because I so I admire her giant Texas-sized balls.
She was not limited
by what the culture in which she was living gave her permission to do or to be. I love that.
- Culture Says: Women don’t become lawyers.
- Florence Says: I’d love to hear more of your keen insights but I’m afraid I must run, as I’m due in court.
- Culture Says: Divorce is not an option.
- Florence Says: Is that right? I will be sure to let me ex-husband know.
- Culture Says: Short, rotund, older Jewish women with no experience don’t get to be in movies.
- Florence Says: Thank you for that interesting theory. Now if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Laurence Olivier is awaiting me on the set.
And what’s even more extraordinary
than her capacity to tolerate the disapproval of the dominant culture in which she lived is the fact that she was able to bypass the Biggest, Toughest, Most Naysaying Gatekeeper of All… Herself.Shitballs...that's impressive.
The cultural restraints we encounter are nothing
compared to the restrictions we put on ourselves.
I can't be loud.
I can't look foolish.
I can't risk insulting someone.
I can't let disappoint my mother/spouse/community/the Baby Jesus.
I have to stay in this career.
I have to make this amount of money.
I have to be sunny and upbeat.
I have to be cynical and cold.
I don't have the hips for origami.And on and on and on...
Until you set so many limitations around who you are allowed to be, you scrunch yourself into woefully abbreviated versions of your humanity, occupying less and less of your whole, intricate, multi-faceted, extraordinary selves.
Hello, my name is Acceptable and One-Dimensional.
And I really really want us all to stop doing that.
We all agree to unscrunch ourselves.
As an Improv teacher, I get to help people re-inhabit those restricted territories inside of themselves so that they may put all of their full aliveness out into the world.
The world needs your full aliveness!
May we all take a page out of my ass-kicking great grandmother's book by:
Continuing to fight the good fight against your perceived limitations!
Summoning up the courage to do your thing, even if it's unusual or out of bounds!
Taking the risk to drop what no longer serves you and continually be
creating the life of your dreams!
Yee-haw!!! (a nod to my Texas roots, ya'll)
Thank you, My Groovy Friend.
For your smooth moves,
For your sweet grooves,
For shaking your booty as only you can.
In this whole wide world, My Groovy Friend, only you have that booty.
So if you don't shake that wildly specific, one-of-kind, snowflake booty of yours.
It will never get shook..(shaken?)
You don't need my money.
You shake it because that's what you are feeling in that moment.
And other people's opinions of
your smooth moves,
your sweet grooves...
That is, of course, none of your business.
Your business is you.
And there you are, deeply engaged in what makes you feel most alive.
Out beyond what is cool and appropriate..
Many miles from what everyone else thinks you should be doing...
Getting down on the wildly under-used dance floor that is Central Park West.
And I love you for that.
Thank you, My Groovy Friend, for the inspiration.
Groove on, my brother...Groove on.
If you make a mistake, do it twice.
- Jazz Saying
Improv is often called the Jazz of theater.
And a central premise of both art forms is to embrace mistakes as gifts.
In both Jazz and Improv, the guidelines are as follows:
1. It is completely acceptable to make a mistake.
2. If/when a mistake is made, it will be welcomed, honored and full-on showcased.
3. Every mistake is an opportunity to take the players in a new & unexpected direction, so thank you very much for the lovely mistake you've provided.
Listen to what Jazz musician Stefon Harris has to say about how he and his ensemble handle mistakes. Click on the play button below the picture.
So there's really no such a thing as a mistake in Jazz because if a "wrong" note is played, the musicians will simply shift the song to a new context, one that incorporates the "mistake" and makes it sound great.
The musicians can be completely in the moment, not stressing about "doing it right" because anything they play, even if it is a "mistake" will be accepted by the ensemble.
Imagine what you could do in your own line of work if there were no such thing as a mistake!
Here's another example of allowing a mistake to birth something unexpected and wonderful, simply by meeting the misstep with acceptance and support.
This is from one of my very favorite movies, Little Miss Sunshine.
Olive did not accomplish what she 'd originally hoped to accomplish - she did not win the pageant - but something even better happened. Her "mistake" ended up bringing her family closer together - an unexpected and glorious outcome.
Mistakes gift us the gift of leading us into unknown territory, where we did not expect to be, which can lead to some surprising outcomes.
Take for instance,
The Leaning Tower of Pisa
No doubt the architect of this universally recognized building was displeased when his tower developed an extreme tilt. Little did he know that his "mistake" would attract tourists from all over the world, each wanting to play some version of this fun photo game:
When Alexander Fleming made the "mistake" of leaving a petri dish open overnight, only to discover it the next morning, covered in mold, he probably felt like a Class-A Dumb Dumb. That was a pretty bush-league move for a fancy scientist person, right?
Nothing like saving millions of lives to help ease the pain of having made a sloppy mistake.
Had Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman not mistakenly gotten some of the lysergic acid he was synthesizing on his fingertips, he never would experienced the hallucinatory effects of the chemical.
And The Grateful Dead would have been a wedding band.
So what wisdom can we glean from the worlds of Improv and Jazz that we may all bring the art form in which we are all participating at at every moment, aka, Life?
How about this.. How about we each expand our personal list of Possible Responses for When I Make a Mistake
to add a few more options...
- Beat Myself Up
- Call Myself Names
- Dissolve into Shame Spiral
- Meditate on My Failure as a Human Being
- File Away as Evidence that I Suck
- Go With It
And leave ourselves open to discover
what unexpected greatness might lie on the other side of our gaff.
If we look at the world through the lens of discovery, then there are no mistakes, just opportunities. (And yes, that is what I'm going to tell the IRS when/if I ever get audited).Big Love,Rachel :)PS - Are there any "mistakes" you've made in your life that turned into something wonderful? I'd love to hear about it - please share in the comment space below!
And given that courage is a muscle, you strengthen it the same way you strengthen any muscle – you use it.
And the very funnest way I know to work your courage muscle is by doing Improv.
(Yes, Grammar Police, I just used the word funnest. Breathe..)
Improv is a Courage Gym.*
And unlike big wave surfing, Improv is something you can do that will successfully scare the crap out of you and will almost certainly not result in a fractured pelvis. Bonus!
When I tell people that I teach and perform Improv they often say, Oh, I’ve always wanted to try Improv but it’s so scary!
Yes. You are correct. Improv is scary. And that's a fantastic part of it! The scariness is a major piece of why Improv is so thrilling to watch and to do. You follow your fear in front of a live audience, who is on the ride with you and loving you for taking those risks.
Improv is a blast and a half and I highly recommend it.
And if Improv is not your thing, then I strongly encourage you to find another pursuit that will consistently give you the opportunity to take risks in order to get accustomed to conquering your fear.
Instead of Improv you could:
Do what Felix Baumgartner did and jump from the edge of space, reaching a top speed of 843.6 mph as he barreled toward Earth.
Do what Jason Collins did and be the first athlete in any major team sport to come out of the closet. (Well, I suppose if you did this you would technically be the second athlete.. Even so, that would certainly give your courage muscle a workout..)
You could do what Malala Yousafzai did after getting shot in the face by the Taliban for going to school and become an International education activist.
Take your pick, just do something to work that Courage Muscle.
Get in the habit of taking risks, big and small:
Ask her out.
Wear the hat.
Smile at the stranger.
Call your father.
Use soy milk.
Quit the job that’s eating your soul.
Become a Rabbi.
Free a country.
Legal Disclosure: Nelson Mandela is not an official spokesperson for Rachel Hamilton Improv. Yet.
Here's the simple formula at work here: Everything you practice you get better at.
- Every time you do something that scares you, you get more courageous.
- Every time you choose not to do something that scares you, you become more afraid.
So, take every opportunity you can to press forward when you are afraid.
The world needs you to strengthen your courage so that your fear will not get in the way of you following your calling, discovering your truth, bringing your gifts to the world in the way that only you can do.
Also, let me remind you that energy is contagious. If you want to be more courageous, hang out with people who are being courageous. Every Improv class is, by definition, populated by people who are being courageous. I'm just saying...
Big Courageous Love,
*You can even wear your Lulu Lemons if you want to...(out here in NoCal, we just call those pants..)
So, you know these jobbies?
This is called a multi-tool.
These are the thingies that People-Who-Can-Fix-Things
have tucked into the little side pocket of their Carharts, ready to provide the exact tool for doing what needs to be done; everything from opening a beer bottle, to punching a new hole in a belt, to removing a fish hook from a wide-mouth bass.. God bless those sexy multi-tool carrying people.
When it comes to the soft skills we need as human beings, Improv is the ultimate multi-tool.
One of the joys of teaching Improv in the wide variety of environments that I do is that people approach me after every workshop to say, You know who this kind of work would be really good for?
Just yesterday I heard the following ides:
Yes! Yes! And, yes!
- "Improv could be an amazing resource for people working with Alzheimer's patients as a way for caretakers and loved ones to connect to the world the person is living in.."
- "Improv is something I need so badly to get out of the habit of making everything so freakin' serious all the time..."
- "Improv would be so great for teenagers who have had mostly on-screen connections, to remind them what direct contact is like..."
The most common problems people come to my Improv classes to solve are:
I never laugh.
I don't know who I am.
I'm really freakin' hard on myself.
I'm not finding enough hilarious people to date on OK Cupid.The applications of the magical art/craft of Improv are endless.
Improv is officially the World's Funnest Way*
to get better at the essential soft skills of being a human being, like Communication, Confidence, Connection, Listening, Presence, Authenticity, Curiosity and Emotional Intelligence...
And yes, it will make your ass look better in those jeans.
Thank you, Improv, for all that you do, you Magical Multi-tool of Wonderfulness.
PS - Which thingy on the Improv Multi-tool are you using? What is Improv helping you do better? I'd love to hear about it!
* this data has been verified by the What Rachel Hamilton Believes to be True Institute.
The biggest challenge of attempting anything new is that when you first begin, you are pretty much guaranteed to be inept, clumsy and just plain-old terrible at whatever it is.
Take for instance, me, this morning.
This morning I tried something completely new - I took my very first Cuban Salsa class.
(This, FYI, is not a picture of me. Dagnabbit.)
I confidently took my place in the front row of class, fully expecting to be able to pick up the moves with relative ease.
I mean, come, on, how hard could it be?
Answer - Pretty Freakin' Hard!
And this was not a casual just-do-the-best-you-can dance class.
This was a full-on, real deal, you-better-know-your-shit dance class.
We hit the ground running and it wasn't six minutes into class before Meany-Pants Teacher Lady was pointing at me from the other side of the room and gesturing vigorously for me to move my Beginner's Ass to the back line.
Yeah, I got straight-up demoted.
I wanted to walk out to go and have a good cry in the parking lot but, paralyzed by self-consciousness, I stood there in my new spot in the back of class, teetering on the brink of a shame spiral...
Oh my god, I am the worst one in here! How did all these freakin' MILFs get so good at Salsa anyway?? I am literally tripping over my own feet.. My Jewish Ass should stick to something simple like Polka - clearly it does not have the necessary rhythm for this latin groove!! What am I even doing here??? I suck I suck I suck I suck I suck I suck...I should just quietly sneak out the back and never speak of this again...I suck suck I suck...
I rode the wave of embarrassment and sure enough, it passed.
Emotions do that, you know. You'll notice that after about 90 seconds the physiological content of an emotional reaction (sweaty palms, pit in the stomach, wanting to hurl, etc.) is gone. After that, it's our brain on replay, telling us stories that keep the emotion going.
And once it passed, the most amazing thing happened. The embarrassment wave somehow extinguished my I Should Be Good at This story and I was able to step into the freedom of the truth, that I was a newbie who had no idea what the fuck I was doing so my being terrible at it was 100% appropriate.
I gave myself permission to be the wildly inexperienced novice Cuban Salsa Dancer that I am!
And that, my friends, made all the difference in the world.
When I no longer had anything to prove, class got really fun. I shook it, I grooved it, I bonded with the MILFS against our common enemy, Meany-Pants Teacher Lady as it turned out that no one was safe from her fierce feedback....
I had a blast at exactly the level I was at - Beginner.
And by the end of class I can proudly report that my Cuban Salsa skills progressed one nano-notch, from a complete shit show to a slightly-less complete shit show.
Even Meany-Pants Teacher was a little less cunty by the end.
Growth has many faces, ya'll.
So what did I learn this morning?
I was reminded that staying on the road to getting even reasonably good at anything new, requires us to first learn to endure the highly challenging step of Being Incompetent.
Incompetence is the first part of any learning process, despite what some parts of our own psyche would have us believe.
Let us remember the 4 Stages of Learning:
1. Unconscious Incompetence – I don’t know what I don’t know.
2. Conscious Incompetence – Holy shit, there is so much I don’t know!
3. Conscious Competence – I know how to do this, I just need to pay very close attention. I’m doing it, I’m doing it…stop distracting me so I can do this!
4. Unconscious Competence – What, this old thing I'm doing? No problem. I've got this so dialed, I don’t even need to think about it... You were saying?
It’s in those middle steps (2 & 3) that our brains start panicking and try to protect us by spouting off nonsense.
Brain: Okay, we've tried this new thing a couple times and we are not instantly brilliant at it, so clearly, we should just stop. Obviously we are not meant to do it. Let's bail and go do something we are already good at. And on the way there I'll tell you again how you will never be loved with those thighs...
Here's a general word to the wise, ya'll:
And while expertise is a beautiful thing and a worthwhile goal, let us not forget that it can also be limiting.
Once we have become excellent at something, we lose the glorious freedom to fail and flail at it with impunity.
I know more than a few amazing improvisers who have made it big and as a result, they no longer improvise. The possibility of having a shitty show feels like too big of a risk to take, given their reputation as an expert.
Now that, my friends, sucks.
So, my dears, to sum it up..
Let us count on incompetency as it is inevitable,
Let us honor incompetency as it is a place of great courage and vulnerability,
Let us celebrate incompetency for what it is - evidence that we are bravely stepping out of what is familiar and comfortable, aka: growing.
Like all of us experts have done many times before.
Now go out there and suck at something!!
Happy Birthday, to my beloved Cockapoo, Marty.
I have opted to write a blog post about Marty because:
- I am officially one of those nutty dog people who cares a lot about their pooch's birthday.
- Come on, look at that face! Marty is sweet and heartbreakingly adorable and so very deserving of all the love and attention I can shower upon him.
- Marty is a Master Improviser.
It's that third item on the list that qualifies him for this Blog post.
Here are just a few of the Improv skills at which Marty is a freakin' virtuoso:
Marty is a marvel when it comes to commitment. This is a dude who goes whole hog...for every single meal, every single walk, every single time I walk through the front door. It's downright inspiring.
Of his many passions, the most consistent focus of Marty's pure, liquid commitment is, The Ball. This is where Marty leaves the realm of the ordinary and elevates himself to guru status.
Marty's commitment to the ball is not conditional. It doesn't matter if I give him a "good" throw or a "bad" throw, he's after that ball with the same amount of gusto, giving it all he's got.
Which brings me to the next Improv Skill over which Marty has Mastery...
2. Make Your Partner Look Great
Here's the sad truth, my friends - I'm a shitty ball-thrower. There, I said it. I wish it were not true but it just is.
And I find myself repeatedly surprised at just how not-good I am at throwing a ball, as in; Wow, I'm still really shitty at that. How disappointing.
But Marty is never disappointed in me.
He is 100% dedicated to retrieve whatever kind of throw I offer him. He has no expectations and no demands; every throw is a gift that he relishes and he makes the very most of it.
Even when I inadvertently kick the ball right into his face, he shakes it off and goes after it like it was the greatest throw of all time.
I'm telling you, this little guy has my back, no matter what. That's what it feels like to play with the very best improvisers.
But wait...there's more!
- Marty can hear the mailman's truck approaching from a block away.
- Marty can go from being deeply asleep to totally alert the moment I open a bag of Pop Chips.
- He barks like a mad man when he hears a knock or a doorbell, even when it's coming from the TV. (FYI - there are scads of door-kncks and doorbells in movies).
But like a great improviser, Marty listens with more than just his ears.
He "listens" with his whole body, He pays close attention to everything in his environment.
He's present and responsive to what's happening moment to moment.
And, apparently, sometimes that moment calls for some good old-fashioned ball-licking. (Who am I to question the Master?)
Which is a great segue to:
4. Yes, and..
Marty unquestioningly embraces my ideas and expands on them.
Like this Halloween costume we co-created.
I had to surrender my original idea that it was a policeman outfit when Marty made it his own by rocking more of a flight attendant look.
A great improviser like Marty is full of surprises.
No matter what the environment he finds himself in, he not only says yes...
...he gets down and dirty in it, courageously taking the risk of stepping into the unfamiliar.
And then he tracks that unfamiliar into my house and onto my couch. Ahh, what we do for love.
So, Happy Birthday sweet Marty, you Improv Genius.
Thank you for all you've taught me. You are an inspiration and I love you, my galloping goofball.
And thank you, lovely readers, for reading my dog blog.
I love this guy.
Here’s a graffiti artist that is emotionally courageous.
He drills right down to the red-hot center of what he needs.
He stands strong in his vulnerability, bravely confessing the naked yearnings of his heart for all the world to see.
And I love him for it.
I love you, Juan…or Jorge…or Jesus…or Steve..
(I threw that last one in there so you won’t think me racist…And yes, I am assuming he is a man, so go ahead and think me a sexist, but also, know that I’m right.*)
Whoever you are, Mystery Artist, THANK YOU!!
I may not know your name but I know your heart.
There he was, taking a big risk being up on that building at Canal & Broadway in NYC, a busy intersection both day and night, with his big bucket of white paint He knew that the po-po could nab him at any moment and throw him in the big house, the slammer, the joint, the clink…(that’s what the kids are saying these days, right? The clink?)
So why, with stakes like that, would our hero waste time just spray-painting his name??
Case in point:
Thank you for the artistry, Skair, but I’m afraid I don’t understand. What is it that you need from me?
Or, to the anonymous artist who brought us this next rendering;
Why do you bother risking your freedom if only to indulge in your graphomania?
(grapho·ma·nia: : a compulsive urge to write)
This makes perfect sense to me.
This wondrous creature took the risk because it was well worth it for him to tell his truth to the world.
And, of course, his truth is all of our truths.
I submit that everything we human beings say is some version of this beautiful sentiment.
Check out this handy-dandy translator:
Hi, I’m Rachel = LOVE ME
I went to Northwestern University = LOVE ME
I like your hat = LOVE ME
Fuck off, motherfucker or I'll punch you in the throat! = LOVE ME
This guy has captured the core wish that lies behind everything we human beings do and say. He was brave enough to get up on that building and broadcast the essential need for all of us; to feel safe, to feel included, to feel respected all of which can be summed up by saying... to be loved.
Thank you, (Pablo…Pedro…Brad?), for having the guts to say it and spray it.
I do indeed love you very much.
Your Friend and Fan,