Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: improvisation

A Friend in the Unlikeliest Place

Yesterday just happened to be one of those days that are so incongruous and strange they are a challenge to understand, let alone write down. But it was the kind of day that I believe will shift me and take me down an unexpected path of my journey.

Let me try. Big Friendly is out of town so my day started early, walking, feeding and watering the animals. My first appointment was in Wynberg, to meet with the CJSA (Cape Jewish Seniors Association) for an interesting chat/session. I met with a different branch in Milnerton in July and it had been a success and then I was asked to do the Wynberg one. I am not naive. I was asked because I said yes to the first one. Almost 30 ladies of a certain age (no men this time) were there to find out more about me, and resist playing improv games like I did the last time! I was as prepared as I always am. No idea about what I was going to do or say until I got there.

And then something amazing happened. In my introduction, and emboldened by the clarity Robin DiAngelo has given me about who I am and the enormous edge my White Privilege (not to mention the addition of Jewish Privilege) gives me, I said, by way of introducing myself, “My name is Megan Furniss. I used to be Megan Choritz (nods and sighs of recognition here). I am a writer, actor, director, improvisor. I am Jewish, anti religious, and very political. I want to state here, for the record and so you know, I am anti-Zionist and pro-Palestine.” Can you imagine? There was a massive communal gasp. One brave lady finally swallowed and said, “We don’t have to go there.” There was a shocked and relieved murmur of agreement.

A lot happened in that session. A lot.We jumped through my family and ancestry, flew through my career highlights, touched on Cape Town history, and family, and District Six and Woodstock. We joined dots, dived deep, and even ‘went there’ politically. There were many details, and many moments, and hard questions, and hilarious interludes. There were feelings hurt, and hearts won over. In the group was a shiny, funny, clever, vocal powerhouse of a woman with a lot to say. I haven’t asked her permission to use her name publicly so I won’t, but we got each other. She was excited by me and my points of view, and I was thrilled by her tenacity, and cleverness, and out-there-ness. She was my tribe. I left that time there shifted. As much as I had come to share my stuff with them I felt differently seen by a community that I have constant struggles with. I had to dash, with promises to return.

Then I flew over to the Golden Acre to take part in an hour long interactive improvisation performance called Film Me In as part of Infecting the City. Honestly, from the ridiculous to the incomprehensible. It’s been a while since I performed in the Golden Acre and I had forgotten what an awesome space it is. I was standing there, in the big open space we were performing in, trying to encourage people to participate, when I felt a tap on my head. My new friend from the CJSA meeting had taken a trip to town to see what I was up to! This woman had brought herself to the Golden Acre, a place I can guarantee her fellow community members hadn’t visited in years, to come an check us out. I love her.

My day ended with me falling asleep in front of the insane, hideous and demented impeachment hearings where Americans tore into each other and behaved like lunatics in support of chief batshit crazy, psycho, abuser Donald J. Trump.


I have always believed that I am one of few people who are comfortable with, or at least used to, change. Having been a ‘freelancer’ my whole life, with no actual proper job, I have gotten used to living with uncertainty. I don’t know any other way. Sometimes my days are full and complicated, and sometimes I have no idea what all those things were that I so badly wanted to do ‘when I had the time’.

Being someone who doesn’t know how the days, weeks and months of the year are going to unfold also means putting things out into the world of work and hoping that some of them take root. Some do. Sometimes at the same time. Sometimes a barren wind blows and nothing grows.

Being an improviser has been the best, and most consistent help. The improvisation philosophy of being in the present is a powerful and positive tool, and it is also the tool that has shaken me out of passive lethargy and into action; sometimes just to do the mundane stuff of exercise or housework.

So the theory is that I should be able to cope well with change. And I do. Ish. I just get stuck when things change and they are worse than they were before, and the change is out of my hands.

A good example would be the change of a board of some or other organisation – let’s say, for argument’s sake and totally hypothetically, the board of a charity I support. Let’s say I have been working with these tired and committed board members because I believe in their cause. And they have sacrificed much. And then a new board takes over, with efficient plans to save money and make money, with comparisons to other charities who do things better elsewhere. All of this is needed, and it makes sense. And they are totally gung-ho, but still, some people leave the organisation, and others stay, not totally fitting into their new skins, And the change is all over – in management style, and tone of voice, and level of commitment. None of it is wrong. It is just different. Relationships are different. And my place is different. And my voice is differently heard, and felt, and maybe, possibly ignored.

This change is so hard for me. This kind of change.

I have no idea why the feeling of this kind of change brings me to this memory. Many, many years ago now, when the passings of our old Taiwanese dogs Bayla and Gally were properly mourned and I started thinking about adopting a new dog into our home I remember seeing a pic of a dog on an animal rescue website and I became convinced he was the one for us. (I am sure I wrote about this on this blog all those years ago). They sent a man to do a house inspection and he decided that our courtyard was too small and we failed the house inspection. No matter how hard I tried to explain that we had no intention ever of keeping the dog in the courtyard, that he would be an inside dog that we would walk every day, mostly twice a day, they refused to hear us.

Sometimes change makes me feel misunderstood.

PS. I have just gone back to those old posts about that time. Yup. Still smarts.

Improv and the Proteas, and why I think they need TheatreSports

I was having a chinwag with Brett from TheatreSports on Monday night. He is the most passionate, dedicated and positive Proteas supporter, and we were discussing the game on Sunday between England and SA. Brett managed to put a positive spin on the shocking situation, saying that Sunday’s game was a good time for the Proteas to be shocked out of any complacency, and to make sure they rallied, took it seriously and got properly prepared for the competition. He still believes that a South Africa India final is on the cards. The thing about Brett is his commitment and faith.

When I was reminded of what a loyal and enthusiastic and believing fan Brett is I had a complete flash of what was wrong with the Proteas in general, and with the captain Graeme Smith in particular, and I want to help!

You see, for almost twenty years I have been teaching and imparting the rules and philosophy of improvisation. Aside from saying yes to every offer, the essence of teamwork is developed and practiced. A wonderful space is created which allows for the taking of risks secure in the knowledge that there are other people out there (your team) to support you and even save you and make you look brilliant. And mostly, its about commitment and trust. It’s real trust, free of blame, inspired by the knowledge that the parts that make up the team are brilliant and that the whole is even greater than the parts.

The reason why this improv stuff would be fantastic for a sports team is that so much of the game scenario is similar to improv. When a game starts there is no way to predict an outcome, or even what will happen next. Cricket or TheatreSports; it’s the same. Everyone has practiced the rules and their skills, and each member of the team knows what they need to do; but they don’t know the ‘how’ of any game. Without a failsafe plan A, a contingency plan B, and an emergency plan C, improvisation becomes the best way of doing things! It’s about quickly assessing the situation, having all the trust, taking risks, being supportive, having total commitment and positivity. It is what prevents a team from becoming negative, defensive and afraid. It is the difference between responsibility and response ability.

It is also the best way for everybody to love what they do, and share that love with their fellow players and the spectators. It allows for moments of unplanned brilliance. It opens the door to the art of possibility. It creates a team who fundamentally, truly believe that they can win.

I am not seeing that with Graeme and his team. It feels like they are an old fashioned collection of men, with old rules of engagement, old fears, old names hanging like albatrosses around necks (Brett warned me not to say the word), and lacking in the brilliant vision of winning. And it makes me nervous. Then I look for someone or something to blame. Then I’m in the downward spiral of the negative, alienating and fearful. I believe that is the worst place to be if you want to shine. For me, I see them breathing sighs of disbelief relief when they somehow manage to win, and acceptance when they lose. It should be the complete opposite. They should feel like they were always meant to win, and should be entirely disbelieving when they lose; as if it were almost totally impossible to consider.

If anyone has a contact to the cricket team let me know. When they get back I want to teach the boys to improvise.

TheatreSports after a hard show

There is nothing more fantastic than a great TheatreSports show. It’s the best feel-good fix for any player. But when the show is tough and complicated it offers up the most learning. Last night’s show was like that, and because I am a bit rusty at the moment I felt the moments of struggle a lot more acutely.

Improvising is complex and simple all at once. You have to follow the basic rules, but you also have to allow for all possibilities. You have to be confident yet completely generous. You have to give ideas and give up ideas. You have to work with and for the other players. And you have to remember every step of the way that nobody knows what you are thinking unless you say it out loud!

Improvising in front of an audience shows up every relationship; both on-stage relationships between characters and off-stage relationships between players. Of course there is also the interface with the audience by the emcee and the silent player in the lighting box too. Then there is the musical improviser who is also busy giving and taking. All this relating! And it’s fluid and dynamic, constantly shifting and changing, with status, energy, and emotion.

After every ‘difficult’ performance I walk away trying to find the key. I think last night’s one was ‘set-up’. It felt like we were in a rush to get to the middle and end of each game, before we had clearly established the set-up in the beginning. One thing about improvising is that you never stop learning. And because each show is completely different, you can keep practicing, and while you might make the same mistakes, it will always be in a completely different way, with different players, and in front of a different audience.

I am so delighted to be back on stage in this way; even when it is tough. Thank you TheatreSports.

Ah, Ha!Man

I’ve wanted to see this guy for ages now, having heard so much about him, so last night Big Friendly and I went off to the Kalk Bay Theatre to check the Ha!Man out. It was one of those times when you realise that all people, even your most loved ones, occupy different planets. When the lights came on at interval, I broke my rapture and turned to Big Friendly. His look was pure acid. “What total shit!” he said.

I had to take a moment to deal with the shock! I had sat, listening to the Ha!Man improvise vocally, make music, dance to images of grape vines and girl, play his instruments and tap computers, and I had gone into an almost trance! All the while Big Friendly had sat seething beside me. Different strokes. Ovias. I let Big Friendly leave and I scored a lift home with my china, who loves the Ha!Man so much, she had been to the show three nights in a row.

guitarist The Ha!Man is very, very interesting indeed. His performance is mostly improvised, and you literally see him looking around at times for inspiration, the what of his next bit. Of course improvisation is exactly what I am passionate about, so it was very exciting to watch that process. I think that what is quite different about music/sound improv is that as an audience member you are much more passive. Which totally worked for me last night; I just sat back and tranced out. But I can see where the potential is for ‘some people’ bf bf, to find it all a bit self-indulgent. 

One of the things that was amazing about this experience was how the Ha!Man flies solo. Improv has always been such collaborative work for me; it has always involved more than one person, even if it is just having a stronger, more interactive relationship with the audience. The Ha!Man’s final moment last night was using the audience’s clapping ovation and playing with, and that was really very cool. Up until then it had been much more just watching him do the stuff, which I found both mesmerising and quite inspiring.

A weird little side note: Haman is the bad guy in the Jewish story of Purim, which was celebrated last Sunday. On this Jewish holiday one of the things you do is when the congregation listens to the reading of the story, every time the name Haman is said people make huge noise, with rattles and their voices, so that the sound of his name is totally drowned out. 

Talk talk radio

I’m off to talk to Soli on 567. I love it. Today we will be talking about the work we do with improvisation in the corporate world. I’ll feedback later. Eesh, I just tried to make links to Soli and 567 but I can’t make contact!

Will fix later.

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