Most improv comedians know what it’s like to navigate an unpredictable situation on stage, but few have had to deal with a scene partner who starts urinating in the middle of a performance. Which is exactly what happened—and on more than one occasion—during Terrie Silverman’s improv workshop at Art Works Studio on Larchmont Boulevard last week.
“It is very likely that at some point they may go to the bathroom,” Silverman warned the class. She was introducing featured guests Roscoe and Floyd, who were not a group of well-known comedians, but rather, a pair of skittish-looking Nigerian dwarf goats. “The great thing about goats is that because they’re vegetarian, their poops are cute. If they go to the bathroom near you, it’s a blessing.”
Goats were an unlikely choice for the class considering their lack of language skills, which makes abiding by the “Yes, and…” mandate—the first and maybe only rule of improv—incredibly difficult. And they’re not exactly known for their comedic timing, except when it comes to matters of the bowels and bladder. But to Silverman, a writer and performer who teaches storytelling and creative writing workshops under the name Creative Rites, goats are ideal for unleashing animalistic creativity in humans. She got the idea for the class when she found herself overcome with joy during a goat yoga class. She thought if the goats could help her relax and get out of her head during yoga, surely they could do the same for comedians during performances. She’s been incorporating the goats into her storytelling workshops over the last six months, but this class was the first time she’s ever used them in an improv experiment. In fact, she claims it’s the first time goats have ever been incorporated into an improv course, an innovation she says is “the equivalent of a moon landing.”
“Creativity is about trusting the unknown and being in the moment, so I thought they were the perfect facilitators and catalysts for being in our creativity and expression,” explained Silverman, who has thick black eyeglasses and a messy bob of short brown hair. “Goats are really curious and they don’t care whether you like them or you don’t like them. They’re going to do what they’re going to do.”
She hoped her students would take inspiration from the goats’ decidedly un-self-conscious attitude (though probably not to the point of peeing during the middle of class). Mostly though, the group of more than a dozen participants—mostly young and middle-aged women with minimal improv experience—were mesmerized by the goats, who easily became the focus of every scene. Because the tiny bearded mammals couldn’t propose their own scenes, they acted as avatars, with the performers interpreting their thoughts and movements to the rest of the group.
“Notice their physical movements. Study how they move,” said Silverman, who wore a burgundy T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Keep calm and love goats.”
She continued, “What is Roscoe thinking and feeling right now?”
It was hard to say. The goat with the Calico coat didn’t seem to be thinking much of anything as he stared at the all-white horned goat named Floyd. Both belong to Michelle Tritten, who leases them out for yoga—and now, improv—classes through her company, Hello Critter. “I’m thirsty. Let’s kiss,” someone in the audience offered, projecting a dialogue between the two goats.
This went on for several rounds until Silverman decided it was time for an exercise she called the goat confessional, which felt a lot more like therapy than comedy. “What do you want to confess to the goat?” she prompted. “What do they know about you that you don’t realize about yourself?” One woman confessed that she’d once eaten goat. Another said she’d had a dream about a goat and wanted to find out what it meant. Another said she’d rather have a goat than a boyfriend.
April Skinner played along, even though this wasn’t the class she’d signed up for. Her friends had heard about it during a TV news segment and brought her here unknowingly as part of their adventure day tradition, which involves a day of activities — the weirder, the better — planned as a surprise. “I still didn’t understand what was going on until they showed me the paper [advertising the event]. Then I said, ‘Huh?’” said Skinner, who works as a theater manager at Stages Theatre in Orange County. “I don’t understand how you improv with someone that doesn’t speak.”
Still, Skinner managed. “It’s interesting. I’m having a good time,” she said. “Life is too short not to improv with goats.”
Comedian Fiona Goodwin, a student of Silverman’s whose one-woman-show, A Very British Lesbian, is currently running at a theater in West Hollywood, said she admired how Roscoe and Floyd seemed to lack any kind of ambition. “Just be like these animals,” she said she told herself during the class. “Without long-term goals.”
Tritten, who wore a T-shirt depicting a goat-like figure doing yoga on a rainbow—official merchandise for the goat yoga classes she helps lead at Golden Road Brewing—said she couldn’t see why goat improv wouldn’t take off, just as goat yoga had. “I think people are interested, intrigued, and when they hear the words ‘goat yoga’ they want to know more,” she said, adding that The Gong Show contacted her about potentially staging goat improv on the Mike Myers-hosted television series. As she looked around the room to gauge interest, Floyd started peeing. The class took it as a blessing.
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