I Was a Jam Virgin


By Tara Lynn Wagner


Has this ever happened to you? You’re standing about, minding your own business, when suddenly someone in a headset frantically whispers, “That’s your cue!” and pushes you onto a stage in the middle of a performance of who knows what. You don’t have a costume (in fact, you’re probably in some embarrassing stage of undress), you don’t know your part, let alone your lines, and the other actors address you as if nothing is the slightest bit amiss.

If so, then it could mean one of two things: either you’ve suffered from what’s commonly referred to as the “Actor’s Nightmare” or you have chosen to indulge your twisted masochistic tendencies and perform in an improv show.

I used to be a frequent victim of the former. Many were the nights of restless slumber that found me thrust into the spotlight in my skivvies, only to realize to my horror that I was in the middle of an Austen-esque parlor piece. I’d quickly don an English accent, dash behind a tea cart (hoping no one would notice I wasn’t in proper 18th century attire) and come up with something hopefully witty to buy myself some time.

Desperate for rejuvenating sleep, having reached my wit’s end, I began to seek a way to conquer my fear. What better way to do that than to look it in the eyes and say, “You want a scene about a tap-dancing cow on a Russian potato farm performed in the style of a Quentin Tarantino film? You got it!”
And so, as a means of shock therapy, I came to an audition held at the HomeGrown Theatre on Broadway and 100th Street and found myself a few weeks later – appropriately enough on Halloween night – turning my worst dream and fondest nightmare into a reality as a new member of Tom Soter’s Sunday Night Improv comedy jam.

Mind you, I had experience with improv before as a member of Mission Improvable but that didn’t make me less nervous. Tom will tell you that there is no such thing as having NO improv experience since we improvise every day of our lives. Now, I don’t about your life, but I don’t often find myself in a situation where I am a cockney barmaid in love with a young man who clings to a stool and lathers himself with butter. And I’m generally not called upon during my day to sing spontaneous Wagnerian arias about a carbonated beverage.

But oh, how sweet it is! I can’t think of an extreme sport that can rival the sheer adrenaline rush that comes with flying by the seat of your pants, no parachute, no net, into the unknown fathoms of improvisation.

In case you’re wondering, my nightmares have subsided. Glad I am that I decided to face my demons and glad I am that you all have a perverse fascination with watching us find our way into and out of the bizarre scenarios you throw our way. Keep ’em coming, the odder the better. Whoever said life is stranger than fiction, had never been to the Sunday Night Improv jam.