The Tao of Wayne

By Tara Lynn Wagner


When Tom Soter and I first discussed the possibility of my writing a column, we decided that its “purpose” would be to encourage you l to learn more about the world of improv and the many benefits of applying its lessons to your regular lives. But, between you and me (and PLEASE don’t tell Tom), I pretty much just make this stuff up and hope you all like it. I mean, sure, I have managed to talk my way out of traffic tickets and family reunions and actually having to go to work. but is this because I’m familiar with the rules of improv or because I’m naturally a shifty, devious person who can hide her personal agenda behind a seemingly innocent, trustworthy face? And if the latter is true, what am I doing here? Shouldn’t I be running for office somewhere right about now?


Anyway, my point is this: there is no way to tell if my being involved in improv has had any actual positive influence on my life outside of the HomeGrown at all? That is, there wasn’t until a monumental incident which took place on August 22 made a believer out of me. On that day, I experienced a life-altering moment that proved that taking improv classes can have a profound effect on the course of your life.

I went skydiving.

Now, I see you all, sitting there in your plush red chairs, rattling your brains thinking how can she possibly compare the rules of improv to jumping out of a plane? Is it because when you are performing improv you are essentially leaping into an unknown situation, hoping your heretofore garnered skills and those of your fellow performers will act as the proverbial parachute that saves you from crashing to the ground? Is it because many of you watch us and think, “They’re either really, really brave or just plain crazy to get up there and do that!”? Is it because both improv and skydiving provide a rush of adrenaline you just don’t get from keeping both feet on the ground and always knowing what happens next? No. But those are all good guesses and you should be proud of yourself for coming up with such obscure connections.

What really happened was this: on the morning of my jump, I awoke in terror and began to mentally work myself up into a veritable frenzy, to the point where I actually sat down to a cup of tea with my mother and detailed what I would like done with my soon-to-be-pancake-like remains. My friends and fellow jumpers arrived and, pumped full of testosterone, shoved me into the SUV that would carry me to the precise location of my imminent demise.

One will, with only mild hesitation entrust one’s life into the hands of a reputable surgeon, respected lawyer, or experienced pilot. But the group of tattooed, half-dressed surfer dudes who met me at the entrance to the compound did not instill me with the requisite confidence it would take to get me to jump out of a perfectly healthy airplane. This initial impression was followed by a trip to a little hallowed-out bus now serving as an office where I was told to watch a video and fill out the four-page disclaimer.

While initialing away my right to sue and agreeing to such statements as “I am aware that this activity can lead to serious injury and death” -– DEATH!! -– I was also half-watching the home movie that seemed far less organized and thought-out than the extemporaneous one-act plays we attempt each Sunday night in the jam. My heart in my throat, I was about to tear up the contract and call the whole thing off when from the video monitor I heard a voice ask, “Are you ready, Wayne?” followed by an eerily familiar voice answering in assent. I looked up and there, in full gear, was Wayne Berke, whom I know from an improv class at the HomeGrown Theater.

And that was it. My fears were assuaged. My hesitation vanished. I signed the forms and jumped onto the plane secure in the knowledge that if Wayne had done it and survived, I could do it too! And I jumped – 14,000 feet to be exact – without so much as a palpitation in my heart or lurch in my stomach.

So what does this have to do with you and why you should learn about improv? Who cares? I jumped out of a plane!!! How cool is that?!?! Thanks, Wayne!