Improv

my life is a play and my role, apparently
is as part of an musical octet
which sings three songs
as interludes in a vast improv performance, and
after each, acts out a short improv scene of our own,
a midsummer night’s subplot of sorts.

our songs are rehearsed,
sent to us weeks before the performance,
but for our short scenes
we are given only two lines each, per scene,
just before we go on stage,
which we are told should be spoken
at an appropriate moment during our scene.

we are not limited to these lines,
but are requested to be brief and thoughtful with any other words.

now, it would appear, our performance is nearing its end —
we have completed the third song,
a moving yet somewhat eager four-part harmony,
and we have started our third scene.

already I have delivered my penultimate line,
“but of course nothing matters”,
with what I thought appropriate Beckettian expression,
on the heels of my lovely colleague’s utterance of her line,
“it’s a shame that nothing can be done”.

since our previous scene, there has been a major shift
in the larger play — the principal characters seem to have lost their way,
and the tension has risen, a sense of anticipation, or dread,
and the orchestra’s been playing a more ominous accompaniment.

the final words of our third song seem designed to reflect this. they are:
“the time has ended now for play,
we walk along this dim-lit track;
the others have all gone away,
we sense there’ll be no journey back.”

the song ends on a sad and indecisive Fmaj7.

but while my colleagues are out-doing themselves
with their meagre final lines and fill-ins,
our last moments in the spotlights,
I have no sense of when to deliver my last line,
which is, ironically, “how will I know?”

this line does not seem to belong with my colleagues’ lines.

and so I wait, attentive to the words, the motions,
the language of faces and bodies and eyes,
and say nothing.

of course it isn’t important whether I say it at all —
only my seven fellow players will be aware of the omission,
and the audience and the major cast are all, I would expect,
anxious in their anticipation of the closing scene to come
when our small troupe has left the stage.

still, I wait; the words hang on my tongue.

and then, at last, as if perfectly planned,
our elder colleague steps to the front of the stage, breathes deeply,
and says a phrase, clearly not in our script at all,
addressed it seems to the audience,
to the well-made-up major characters waiting in the wings,
to our little troupe, and to me in particular:
“there is much to be done, and, my friends,
we must each do the right thing at the right moment.”

and with a look of relief and dismay I deliver my line:
“how will I know?”

and my dear colleague,
(the one for whom “nothing can be done”), walks across to me,
puts her hand on my shoulder,
and replies: “you will not — this is not about knowing”,
and whisks me, our troupe now moving as one,
gracefully off the stage.

image from the Pen Tarot

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