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Lights, Camera…College


By Kelly Leonard – Executive Director, Insights and Applied Improvisation

My wife, Anne, and I joined the ever increasing club of parents dropping their eldest child off at college. In our case, our son, Nick, joined the class of 2020 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. It’s a beautiful campus and we have been blessed over the years to know and work with a bunch of Skidmore college graduates at The Second City. Since Nick wants to study theatre – and he’s been improvising all his life – this college feels like the right place for him.

Skidmore has a great welcoming process – a bunch of students are there to greet all the new students and they grab all your boxes and bags and bring them to the dorm room. Within minutes we were helping Nick unpack and Anne realized she would need a screwdriver to put the base on Nick’s tiny flat screen tv. So Nick and I went to the college store, found the tool and started our walk back to the dormitory.

As we started down the stairs, we saw a new college freshman taking her own bags out of the car. Her parents were about ten feet away – one to her right and one to her left. They each had film cameras. The Dad’s camera had a boom mike.

Nick and I looked at each other. “This isn’t happening,” I said. “Oh, yes it is,” he replied.

We waited – for two reasons: we didn’t want to interrupt the shot and we didn’t want to make eye contact with the girl, whose posture was dictating the horror she was feeling.

But the Mom motioned us to move forward – seeming to mouth the words, “It’s fine – we want this to feel real.”

As we trailed the girl up the stairs, the Dad was shooting from above and the Mom shot from below. We never saw the girl’s face, as she was burying it inside the comforter that was spilling out of the box she was carrying – as if willing it to be an invisibility cloth.

When we got back to the dorm room, Anne looked up at us and said, “What?”

“This poor girl’s parents have turned her drop off into a two camera shoot,” I said.

“Dad had a boom mike,” Nick added.

One of the byproducts of having our kids attend the Chicago Waldorf schools has been a distinct lack of media as it relates to any school events. No video taping, recording or photographing of school plays, functions or ceremonies. Smart phones stay in the pockets and handbags at Chicago Waldorf.

I in no way am suggesting that I’m immune to the draw of media and the recording of my life on social media. In fact, I’m likely more active on those channels than the parents shooting their daughter’s campus arrival.

But there are times when you simply need to be in the moment. There are times when you need not record for posterity. One of the things I’ve always loved about improvisation is that it exists when it happens and it ceases to exist once it stops. Del Close, the famed improv teacher/director, once compared improvisation to fireworks, “the most ephemeral of art forms,” he suggested.

The bundle of emotions that one experiences when leaving a son or daughter off at college – especially a college that is hundreds of miles away – is complex and unnerving. I can see why one might want to hide behind a camera (or inside a comforter). It’s hard for everyone.

But it reminds us of some essential truths. That you need to let go; that you must allow for failures; that you are rarely in control; that faith is not easy and that it is imperative that we create spaces for learning and growth that will not be marred by bad lighting, flubbed lines or blurry images.

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