What I Learned in an Improv Workshop with Tripp Crosby

“You’ve signed up for an improv workshop today, so already I know something about you. You are fun, and you like to try new things.” This is how Tripp welcomed us. So, for anyone who needs clarity, I am fun.

The generosity of strangers.
It is pretty vulnerable to think on your feet, evoke emotion, and respond on the fly with no time to filter. You’ve got to trust that you can trust the people in the room. We were gracious in the giving, and bold in the receiving, as we made each other laugh. These people watched me doing insanely ridiculous things. And I let them.

Improv builds community. We were together for three hours, and if someone had walked into the theater after an hour of our workshop, they would have believed that we were an exclusive group who study improv and work together often. We were so comfortable, tossing our thoughts right out there, to succeed or fail. And if a line started to flop around like a dying fish, then someone else picked it right up and brought it to life.

Come along. This was Tripp’s first rule, and it was a great ground rule. This changes things as a leader of conversation, to openly say from the start, if we’re going to do this together, will you commit to do this with me? Because it’s pretty vulnerable to stand up here and lead. If you promise to follow, this whole thing will be better for both of us.

This is a No Judgment Zone. No judging others, and no judging yourself. I found it much more difficult to follow the second rule. I had so much grace for anyone else, but not as much for myself.

Acting is Awesome.  My friend Joe and I acted a scene together, and this was our prep: “When you hear the buzzer, then you have to repeat the line you just said, but change one nuance in the sentence, and then let the scene change from there. Got it? You’re on a dance floor. Go.”

Just like that, the scene began. Joe and I dove right in, feeding off each other’s imaginations. I broke into my classic impromptu dance that’s kind of a ridiculous blend of square dancing and the running man. Joe asked me to dance.
“To this song?!” I asked, still doing my running man square dance.
“Yeah, maybe not to this song. Maybe another one. I really like to mostly watch at these things, anyway.”
I stopped dancing and joined him on the side of the ‘dance floor’ to people watch. “Look at that guy! That’s insane!”
“I think he’s going to do the splits – woah! He totally did!”
“In skinny jeans, no less!”
“In baggy jeans, no less!”
“In NO JEANS, no less! This is crazy!”
“No jeans?! Is this No Pants Night at the bar?”
(I was wearing a sundress.) “Well, I’m not wearing any pants, so clearly, yes, it is!”

Aaand… Scene.

Joe and I kicked it. I’m pretty sure if I ever see him on a dance floor or in an airport for the rest of our lives, we’ll give each other another fist bump and say, “Man, remember when we did that? That was great, wasn’t it?”

Creating is bonding. The people I met in this workshop became my community for the rest of the weekend. This is especially interesting because we all came into this room thinking, “oh, what the heck… sure. I’ll make a fool of myself. It’s not like I’ll ever see these people again.”

And then we were inseparable for the next three days. We sat together, ate together, spent all of our breaks together. We texted to find each other, wake each other, and to say good night. It was instant friendship because we all joined hands on that first day, and we jumped off a cliff together. And when you’re holding hands, then you sink or swim together.

(I think I might need to sign up for an improv class.)

The Night Donald Miller Changed My Life

Pour yourself some coffee, my friend. Or a mimosa. Whatever you need to settle in for one of the best moments of my life.  I’m probably about to plow through every word-count suggestion for blogs. But, when your life changes in one night, you should use as many words as you need.

So, remember how I told you I love the Storyline Conference? If you need a refresher course, click here to read a favorited post from the archives: Donald Miller is a Freaking Genius. Or click here, to read about the time I marched in a protest because I thought it was a parade, all inspired by Storyline.

This weekend was my second rendezvous with Storyline, and I have long awaited this trip. I registered months ago, and I’ve had a paper chain countdown going on. Such has been my anticipation.

Our weekend launched on Friday night with a dinner at a trendy club in Nashville. Donald Miller, the Storyline team, and 500 of his closest friends – with 500 more to arrive the next day. This place was filled with Storyline Groupies, and we were all thankful to have found one another. Storyliners get starry-eyed when you mention words like Inciting Incidents and Climactic Scenes and Redeeming the Negative Turns. We are like a Star Trek Convention, except instead of being compulsive science fiction junkies, we can’t quite get enough of the high of telling better stories with our lives.

Don came by to dismiss our table to the buffet line, and I said, “Could I just walk with you for a few minutes? I know you’re dismissing tables, but… well, I have something I need to tell you.”

He smiled and motioned for me to join him. “Sure, you bet. Talk to me,” said Don Miller, who is every bit author and every bit real person.

I said what I had hoped to say, in the moment I had prayed for, should I have the chance to have an honest-to-goodness conversation with DM. I didn’t want to be lost in a sea of adoring fans waiting for him to sign their arms. I wanted to have a legitimate conversation. Authentic. Real. No authographs necessary.

“Don, in 2012, I attended Storyline in Portland. I was sitting in the third row, and you asked for an example of an inciting incident, something someone could do to propel change in her life. I raised my hand; you called on me. I was a young widow. My husband had just died 15 months before.”

“Yes, yes. I remember you,” he said. I had his full attention.

“I told you that I was a single mom with two small boys, and I needed to inject some happiness into our lives. And you said, ‘Have you thought about writing a book about this?'”

He smiled. “I remember that.”

“And you said, ‘Let’s stay in touch. I want to see where this goes.’ Well, it’s been almost two years, and since I last saw you, I’ve written a book, I have an agent and a publisher, and my book will be released in February.”

Don Miller gives great hugs, and he swept me into one. The thing about telling him your dream has come true? You’re making his dream come true also. He’s the story guy. His story is to help us tell better stories.

“Tricia, that is fantastic. Would you be willing to share that story with everyone here tonight?”

“Absolutely. I would love to.”

(Sidenote: when I shared thie story with my Tuesdays later that night, one of the girls said, “Wait – I need to know what you were wearing.” I gave her the head to toe rundown, right down to the patent leather heels. She approved. “Okay. Go on.”)

After dinner, I joined Don at the front of the room, and he introduced me to the Storyline groupies. He said, “Here at Storyline, we collect stories. We love to hear what people are doing, the stories they are living, and tonight I heard a really great one. Tricia, tell them.”

1393116_10201624009629417_228989609_nHe handed me the mic, and I told them the story: the five-paragraph version of my life in the last three years. I finished, “…so in February of 2014, my book is coming out.”

They applauded and cheered, because we are groupies. (See above.)

And then – brace yourself, because this is H-U-G-E.

Don said, “We think there will be about 1800 people at our San Diego conference in February, and you need to come and be one of our keynote speakers. Are you in? And we’ll launch your book. New York Times and above. Let’s do it.”

The room roared.

I said, “Are you kidding me right now, Donald Miller?”

“I am absolutely not kidding you. In front of 500 people, I’m inviting you to be a keynote speaker in San Diego. This is what they call ‘an Inciting Incident.’ You in?”

And that’s how it happened, where I was standing, and what I was wearing, in the moment that my life changed. Because I’m pretty sure, there is something forever changed. Essentially, I won the writer’s version of American Idol.

There was applause. Photos. Cheering. And I couldn’t stop giggling. I said to Don, “You changed my life tonight. You know that, right?”

With classic, potent Donald Miller eye contact, he said, “Oh, we’re just getting started.”

As guests at the dinner, we were surprised with concert tickets to close out the evening, and the crowd of Storyliners streamed out of the ballroom and into the concert venue.

“Tricia! Are you coming?”

“Thank you so much, you guys, but I’m going to my hotel. I want to call my mom and dad.”

I came to my hotel room, set my purse on a chair, my room key on the desk, kicked off my heels, and I lay on the floor with my face to the carpet. And I was speechless before the God who has orchestrated this story. I have nothing, Jesus. I have nothing to give you. Oh, God. Thank you.

And please, could you tell Robb?

(My Tuesday said, “Wait. On the floor? The hotel floor? Tricia, that’s gross. Please go on, but promise me you won’t do that again. I get the whole falling-prostrate thing. But do it in your bed.”)

So, here’s some news: I belong to the Storyline Team. We’ll be in San Diego in February – with a book to launch.

February 27 – March 1, 2014.
Keynote speakers include Don Miller, Bob Goff, Anne Lamott,

and Tricia Lott Williford.