What’s on Your Napkin?

Gotham City Improv gang @ Dwyers pubOver twenty years ago, I was cast in small role in a play in New York.  One of the leads was a woman I’ll call Amy, since that is her name.  She was one of the most magical performers I’ve ever seen.  I remember watching her in rehearsal, marvelling at how funny she was, and also so quick, too.  We seldom talked to each other, I was fairly shy and she was the star.  I remember one rehearsal when the entire cast went out to eat together and Amy sat there knitting while everyone else chattered excitedly. She was so mysterious, she made me think of the greats, like Geraldine Page or Maureen Stapleton or Sandy Dennis.  In fact, she sort of looked like a young Sandy Dennis.

A few months later, I took a class at a place called Gotham City Improv.  By fate, Amy was my teacher.  It was the second level of their program, I had taken the first level earlier in the year.  Although I passed, my first level experience was unremarkable.  Well, that’s not true, probably.  I didn’t connect with any of the other students, I did not feel like any of the other students thought I was funny or interesting.  I also did not feel like I was funny or interesting.  Level 2 was different.  I made three new friends in that class, 3 people who have been my friends for twenty years now.  I’ll call them Maryanne, Jerry and Rebecca, because those are their names.  Jerry loved every old movie, just like me.  Maryanne knew every detail of every 70’s sitcom, just like me.  And Rebecca, floated in and out of every scene like the Tennessee Williams meets Beth Henley character that she is, just like, well, just like I see myself in my dreams.  I thought that they were all three magical and funny and interesting and they treated me that way, too.  We laughed.  We wrote.  We sang.  We collaborated.  We actually took every subsequent level together.  We passed every class and looking back, I wonder if I would have succeeded in the same way, if not for them.  I wrote for them.  I would improvise for them, thinking, what will make Jerry and Rebecca and Maryanne laugh?

A few months after I moved to LA, Rebecca moved here, too.  Also, around the same time, I was walking out of my apartment building and I saw Amy walking in.  “What are you doing here?” I asked.  “I’m moving in here.  Do you live here?”  Of all the apartments in LA, by fate or by chance, Amy moved into my building.  And over movies we rented from the corner Blockbuster and budget batches of sangria, we became the best of friends.  

And then Jerry moved to LA and the four of us, Amy, Rebecca, Jerry and I spent a great deal of time together.  We’d see each others plays.  We’d take turns hosting little dinner parties.    And then Jerry moved away.  

Amy met a guy named Jonathan.  He added seamlessly into the mix.  It’s always nice when your friend dates someone you like.  And it’s even better, but actually a little rare, when you like them so much that they become your friend, too.  And of course, that’s what happened with Jonathan.  

I remember one night, several years ago, when Rebecca, Amy, Jonathan and I were at happy hour and Rebecca shared her napkin theory, how we all have a napkin with what we have available listed on it.  It can be objects, like a camera or a computer or a recording studio or a car, but it can also be your skill set, like accents or writing or improv or organization.  Also, on your napkin, you should list the friends that you have, that you can collaborate with.  At the time, we teased Rebecca about her napkin theory.  We still do.  But she couldn’t be more perceptive.  We all have a napkin.  And we owe it to ourselves to ask, “What’s on my napkin?”

I was thinking about my napkin last Monday night after my Spark show.  Rebecca, Amy and Jonathan and I went for drinks together.  There was a spirit of celebration, the show had gone well.  And those three have been friends with me long enough and seen enough shows that did not go well, that we revelled in the glory.

My napkin is very full.  I don’t say that to brag, because I don’t have a movie camera or a great talent for accents.  But what I do have is an embarrassment of riches in the talented friend department.  I feel so lucky to have collaborated with so many people, friends from Gotham City and Popover and Groundlings and Party and Barney Greengrass and Uncabaret.   You know who you are.  

Another thought occurred to me last Monday, which is, you never know, when you meet them, who is going to be an under 5 and who is going to be a co-star in your story.  As I sat with Rebecca, Amy and Jonathan, I marvelled at the prominence we’ve had in each others’ lives.  And how lucky I am that they are on my napkin.