Today is “Say Day,” an improv holiday…yes, as with all improv, it’s totally made up. It was invented by performers at the iO theater in Chicago, after the untimely passing of Jason Chen. After his death, his friends gathered to celebrate him and share the impact he’d had on their lives, and the question was raised: why are we always waiting until someone dies to say good things about them? It’s a beautiful holiday, and one especially relevant to me today, days after my final performance with Hostel as a weekend team at BIG*. Here follows a very long Say Day post directed to my teammates. (Sorry in advance to y’all for putting our business on blast out there for the world to see, but I hope that this will make sense at the end of this rambling novella).
Several years ago (how the time passes), I took a week long intensive at iO. If you were FB friends with me at the time, you might vaguely recall how it took me FOUR DAYS to get home: my first flight home getting canceled, missing the next flight, subsequently getting trapped in the Minneapolis airport overnight, etc. (Never again, Spirit Airlines!) Regardless of the hassle, it was ultimately worth it to stay one extra night in Chicago. I went right back to the theater to catch my instructor’s weekly show. It was, as it turns out, the goodbye show of one of the performers in his troupe, who was moving out west.
The set was great, I’m sure of it, but I can’t remember much. What I will never forget is after the set, when the teammates said their goodbyes. When it came to my instructor’s turn, he stood in silence, fragile and exposed under the spotlight. When he could find words, he talked of how they’d lived within miles of each other for most of their lives, their presence at the births of each other’s children, and other shared moments of their lives. He wept openly, on stage, in front of a packed house of breathless strangers. He forgot, I forgot, everyone else forgot that we were there as observers.
We were all a shared entity in that moment, in that space of loss.
Having a weekend team cut is not comparable to the loss of a friend. We’re still alive, here in the same town, and many of us are still on other teams together at the same theater. And also, we’re literally playing at least two more shows together. But it’s a pretty big and abrupt change. I see it now: I worry that we’ll keep it together for a while, coasting on good feelings and warmth from our final shows, then time and scheduling and distance will claim its eventual due.
About Hostel life: we’ve met twice a week for over a year**, making vibrator and vagina and gator-fucking jokes back stage. (Florida Men, what ARE you doing?!) Commiserating about pet deaths. Dating stories. “Jazz club.” We’d get out there on stage and fail or slay, over and over again, with varying combinations of us. Over time, slowly and gradually, you would sneak into my heart:
Maggie – you’re so lightning quick and sharp-witted, and such an absolutely delight to be around. Your kindness belies your inner toughness. I’ve never seen you teach, but the way you talk about your students – I know you’re a good one, the kind your students will remember long after their school days.
Hannah – similar to Maggie, I’ve always admired how strong you are. I love your strong connection to your family, especially your sisters, and the way that you uphold your convictions. You are fierce and beautiful, inside and out.
Jeff – you’re so funny, and SO surprising! I feel like every interaction I have with you, I learn some new and insane thing (about lead paint, about dates in cemeteries, and whatever else!) I see you on the brink of earning confidence in yourself, and it’s exciting to watch.
Blue – I have to admit, I was afraid / intimidated by you at first! (I know you get that a lot!) You’re so funny and fast and bold, and I always felt like I had to run to keep up with you walking. And then we became closer over this past year, because stress will do that. You picked up the phone on multiple occasions this year to check in with me, talk to me and make sure I was okay, for which I feel so grateful and loved. You called me in. Thank you.
Jonathan – my Lobster brother! It’s been SO incredible to watch your growth as a comedian / nascent podcast king. You are so devoted and diligent, whether you’re buying clothes for your students or making sure we get home safely after an evening at the bars. I’m so happy for you that your hard work is finally starting to pay off, and more and more people are starting to recognize your brilliance. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Kristen – when I first saw you do improv, I admired how you’d jump in and support your teammates without a perceptible moment of hesitation. To my delight, I would learn that this is 100% authentically the way you are, on and off stage. You absolutely shine with this inner radiance that is breathtaking to behold.
Marty – there doesn’t exist the appropriate vocabulary to accurately describe how much you mean to me. You’re my creative partner, and one of my dearest friends. Your synapses fire faster than mere mortals can process. You’ve supported wholeheartedly all of my ideas, no matter how absurd and half-baked! I would assuredly never have had the confidence to do any of the projects that I do (improv and otherwise), and I would not in fact be the person I am today — had I not met you and geeked out with you about China Mieville and True Detective at Alonso’s after class. (There’s not a lot of good that happens at Alonso’s, but that alone makes it worthy of enshrinement).
I love you all, and mourn the loss of what we had together, because it will be different. We will try to keep it together as an independent unit, but I sense that it will be hard, and I in particular will be very bad at it. I’m terrible at keeping in touch, and especially shit at being honest and vulnerable. My natural response to anything vaguely emotional is to retreat into radio silence. It is not my best quality, and it keeps me from being fully human.
Why do I continue to do improv, despite being solidly mediocre at it? I keep reflecting on that night in Chicago, that moment of pure human connection. Doing this silly, ridiculous thing with you, week after week, has unexpectedly made me into a better person — better equipped to deal with change, think on my feet, and allow myself to feel. Because of this, I’ll always and forever be grateful for this time we had.