The Note That Sent Me Further On A Voyage of Discovery

by Matthew Stillman.

Ship Shape

When I first started taking improv classes in April/May of 1996 with the UCB Walsh, Besser, Ian and Amy were the only people teaching long form in New York. Indeed they were the only people teaching long form formally in New York for the next three years or so until Armando and Kevin Mullaney and Ali Farahnakian showed up.

While there were always people taking classes once or twice there was probably a group of about 40 people




Took two classes a day, three classes at a time and the like. Really into it. Saw shows constantly. There was truly nothing like it at the time. The classes all felt blazing and raw, full of talent and potential.

Just as an aside, these were the days at Solo Arts when you could walk into ASSSCAT 10 or 15 minutes before it started and pick your seat.

All the UCB were incredible teachers for different reasons and with different focuses and that core of students really admired them and listened carefully to what we were learning. Classes were a simple joy. After a few months I had the vague thought that the “laws” that “govern” improv had applications off the stage and sort of aligned with the introspective and spiritual work I had done and cultivated in my life.

One day Amy Poehler gave our class a truly astonishing note – I don’t recall what spurred it.

Treat the stage with respect. Treat it with total and complete reverence. The stage is my church. There is no place that I feel more alive, more myself, more truthful, more satisfied and happy.

Some people go to church to feel in touch with that creative force that some people call God. Well, I get that on stage. I have learned more about the person I want to be and can be from the lessons I have learned in improv classes and performing in shows. That is why I am here today. So if the stage is my church, improv is my religion.

Now, two people up for a scene and just rock out with your cocks out.

It was a stunning moment. Amy just flashed an invitation to a secret part of improv if you wanted to go there with her. Improv wasn’t just being funny with smart funny people getting the rush of being funny on stage for paying customers. It wasn’t therapy, it was opportunity to see yourself differently and be free to just be a truer version of yourself somehow.

All terribly mystical, I know. But it appealed to me and rung deeply true. But a corollary arose in me after considering Amy’s note for a few days. I didn’t doubt for a moment the veracity of Amy offered – that improv offers a method and approach to living a more satisfying and fulfilled and genuine life – I was experiencing that by osmosis somehow.

But the corollary was that if improv could teach us about being better people, more in touch with the power that some people call God…could the great religious traditions teach us something about improv? I already had a deep and well studied library with great religious texts in it and got to work reflecting upon the question.

In further posts I’ll post my investigations and experiments with what the 10 Commandments teach about improv….then maybe I’ll go into some of the other spiritual traditions.


9 Responses to The Note That Sent Me Further On A Voyage of Discovery

  1. Matt S. says:

    well i only said maybe because writing is very low indeed on my preferred methods of expressing my thoughts and i had no idea if anyone would care about how the 10 Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, Bhagvata Gita, Tao Te Ching, Blue Cliff Record and Koran relate to improv.

  2. Philip Buuck says:

    Hey Matt, awesome post. I really like the group of writers we have on this site! I think the very nature of improv demands that people be as truthful as possible on stage, and thus excellent improvisers can show us humanity at its most open. Someone reacting in the moment has no time to gloss over their personalities, and leaves themselves open for the entire audience to see.

    Kinda lifts the whole thing above fart jokes, I’d say.

    That said, religion is another way to really get down to the fundamentals of the human experience. I’ve never really thought of connecting the two, and it would be great to read your thoughts on it – especially since you’ve had 10 years to contemplate. Here’s hoping you find the inspiration and energy to show us!