Last night i went to support my friend Megan Furniss, by watching a group of high school learners perform an improv show following some training she had done with them. It was aptly titled, ‘Oy’s Line Is It Anyway?’ and ended up being quite delightful.
Let me be honest. Heading off to go and watch school kids perform improv is not something that in itself excites one. Not this one, anyway. However, their first game was one in which they collectively told a story, and the moment this frizzy-haired coloured guy spoke out with the greatest conviction, the line, “And one of his wives was a duck”, i knew we were in good hands.
In fact, right until the last moment of the show when Megan attempted the most dangerous game [as played out by eleven people at once] of Support Group and when asking for a suggestion from the audience, went for ‘Their Toenails Talk’ and even at the last minute as some excited kid in the front row shouted out, “AND THEY EAT PIZZA!” which is absolutely ridiculous, except that Megan trusted her crew and they pulled it off amazingly with some real life LOL moments.
But it was after the show when i was reminded of the magic that exists quite dramatically in the person that is Megan Furniss. In front of parents and friends, she gave the cast a quick round of notes where she spoke to each actor individually and declared publicly their particular strengths and on a few occasions an aspect that they needed to work on to really shine.
Megan, who has taught me more about white activism than most other people and who has lived it for decades longer than i have been really involved, who is not afraid to shy away from a fight [especially when it is in aid of the marginalised or animals] and who can be a loud and frightful voice when voicing her strong opinions on things, is in her absolute element when she slows things down and speaks life to a group of nervous people who are just giving something new and daunting a try for the first time.
i know this, because i remember her doing it way back in 1999 when i was in the TheatreSports [now Improguise] Improv course, learning how to make things up and say “Yes, Lets!” Except that the group was probably double the size and while her notes on how we could each improve were a lot more thorough, she still managed to move around the room, person by person, and speak absolute life and belief and commendation into each person’s improv abilities.
These learners were from a number of different schools and i don’t know any of their backgrounds or stories, but i can imagine that there were a few of them at the very least, who have never had an adult believe in them and express such love and joy and absolute belief in the person they could become as what they received last night.
Earlier in the day i happened to be sitting with Megan in a coffee shop in Woodstock listening to a slight-German accented woman pitch a project she had in mind for the homeless people she works with in terms of sharing their stories and building bridges in their community with community associations and corporates and Megan was buzzing with ideas and it was a different aspect of her magic of story-telling and directing and creating that was morphing into existence right in front of us. “We can do anything!” she triumphantly declared as i sat quietly fretting over the budgetary realities for two people who have been out of paying work for a decent amount of time. And as she floated ideas they were revolutionary and held closely the dignity of the people involved and spoke into what would likely have the greatest chance of working well. We left inspired.
Out of the Furniss
Megan speaks the truth with conviction. Or at the very least the truth she sees and believes to be true. Sometimes she gets it wrong as we all do, but i don’t know a lot of people who own it as honestly and humbly as she does when she realises it. But she is never afraid to speak out.
i can’t write a post this long without mentioning how important following Jesus is or i won’t be able to piss her off properly. Because when it comes to matters of my faith, we are at completely different extremes of the spectrum. She loves my writing but the moment i mention God… and yet somehow we have managed to remain friends for close to twenty years. Maybe it’s because despite being aware of things in the other person that desperately need work, we have both been able to look at the other and grab hold of the “Yes, Let’s!” that is so obviously there. Because we resonate so deeply on the things we do agree with – the dignity of people, the need for the marginalised to be brought closer and for us all to be fighting for equality and a much greater balance for all peoplekind, the pursuit of real justice, the potential that exists in every single human being to be greater than they are right now, compassion and love and caring for the world as a whole [which her vegan does a whole lot more effectively than my bi-monthly vegetarian]. Especially goats.
But also just perhaps because she does things like this:
i woke up one morning to this poster advertising an experimental two-person Improv show we were going to be doing together. Which is just genius and just expresses the person and creativity and fun of Megan so amazingly.
This is what i signed up for when i nervously attended those Improv classes [albeit with an arrogant ‘I can do this!’ attitude after watching a few shows] and as someone who still considers himself very much a non-actor, am amazed at the Improv journey i have had which has largely been facilitated and sharpened by this woman.
Megan is an absolute Improv pro. It can be frustrating sometimes when i play with her and she breaks all the rules because i think she knows i will be able to take anything she throws at me. But at the same time, one of my most absolute highs in life is achieved by making Megan corpse [break character and laugh] on stage. That is the gold medal i reach for on many occasions because even the best can be distracted by the right moment. It’s a personal sign of having cracked the nod.
[As a side note, this is a rare photo of my experimental leopard hair phase which i am super keen to repeat someday soon.]
i’m going to stop now, but i could go on. After last night, watching life being spoken so lovingly and accurately into the lives of eleven high school students i thought it was beyond time that someone did a shoutout to Megan.
You can follow her musings [typically way shorter than my musings yet often more deeply profound] on her blog over here and you should keep an eye out for the next show she directs or acts in or just our next regular Improguise outing.
Megan Furniss, you are an absolute inspiration and i deeply value our friendship and everything you have taught me and the many diverse experiences we have had over the last 20 years. Thank you for keeping me around!