STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
By: Lauren Anderson
This weekend marked a big anniversary for me.
When I’m not performing downtown at The Brave New Workshop, or slinging weights at the gym (yes!), I am in an improv group named Five Man Job. We produce the Twin Cities Improv Festival here in Minnesota (now in it’s 12th year!), and we are also the founders of a little show called Improv-A-Go-Go.
Improv-A-Go-Go (IAGG) turned 16 years old on Sunday. And it was a celebration, and a time for reflection.
Also, it didn’t pass me by that something I helped produce when I was just a little more than a teenager myself– has now also turned into a teenager. With a mind and a heartbeat of it’s own.
WHOA. Time flies right?
Five Man Job performed at the show, and had a super fun set. Afterwards we gave a small speech thanking the crowd, Comedy Sportz, and all the people and performers who helped along the way. But most especially, The Brave New Workshop for lending us their theatre space for FREE every Sunday… so we could try this thing.
On stage I had this miniature moment of profound gratitude. Without the generosity of the BNW, we couldn’t have done this. Without the commitment of the owners John and Jenni to “Yes And” the community, the community couldn’t have grown like it did.
Our little show maybe would’ve ran for a month or two somewhere else. But because they were so kind, here we are, able to have an anniversary party 16 years later.
You know the old saying, “Standing on the shoulders of Giants”?
It’s a saying that’s been traced all the way back to the 12th century, but probably was made the most popular in the 16th century when Sir Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
I think about this phrase a lot. Because I really like the image. Because in a colorful way the phrase is an excellent example of symbiotic gratitude.
On the one hand, the “Giant” has to be willing to raise the littler one up. The Giant has to be a willing host. As if to say, “I have made it this far, now let me help you go the rest.” And then the littler one has to not only accept the help, but recognize all the work that it took to get this far. As if to answer, “I thank you for this view, I will use it wisely. And I am grateful for all you’ve done.”
The phrase is like the perfect parent/child relationship.
When I got off stage, I was deep in thought about this–without the BNW’s strong shoulders to stand on, IAGG would not have been as successful as it was.
I distractedly made my way to get a beer during intermission, trying to calm my heart from exploding with love, when I was stopped by a new improvisor. He was new to the art form, new to the community, and just recently had started taking classes.
He tapped my shoulder, and I turned around. “Great set.” He said. “I’ve never seen Five Man Job perform before.”
I said, “Oh thank you. Yeah, we don’t get to perform as much as we used to.”
He continued, “I didn’t realize that Improv-A-Go-Go helped start the Twin Cities Improv Festival. And HUGE Theater.”
“Yeah. In the early days when IAGG was the place to be, we realized there was a strong community here, and then we knew that the community could support a festival. Then after a few more years of that, I think they felt it was time to open their own theater.”
And then he goes, “Man, that’s so cool how it’s all connected like that. And how it’s all friendly. Like people lifting up people to build a community– that lifts people.”
“Wow! Well said, young Padawan.” I joked. But secretly, I could feel my eyes well up with tears.
He laughed and said, “Anyways, thanks for starting a thing I like, that also helped start so many other things I like.” And he nodded and walked away.
And with that, I may or may not have let the tears fall.
* * *
So the next day at the gym, I walk in to meet up with my number one workout buddy Maureen.
We hug hello and do some catching up. We’re both trying to get our barrings because this is the first time either one of us have worked out during the 6:30 pm slot. It feels weird to be at the gym this late. But truthfully, I was just happy I could fit it in. I was proud that I made it there at all. (Baby steps.)
When in walks Coach Jenn!
I said, “Are you working out in this class? Tonight? With us?” Perhaps a little too excited.
She said, “Hell yes.” and we hugged. And then Maureen and her hugged. And then the three of us hugged. This is what happens when adult friends don’t get to see each other as much as they want to. Lots of hugging before CrossFit class.
But the moment wasn’t lost on me. Especially in the wake of the IAGG anniversary show the night before. If you’ve been reading along in the early days of this blog you know– Coach Jenn and Coach Hannah are the reason I started this journey.
There was a time in my life where I was afraid to walk into this building unless I knew Jenn was there.
For three months she one-on-one coached me so I felt confident to join a class without her. She guided me and gently showed me the way. And I couldn’t have done it without her.
She was so good at it too, because before she was a coach, she was a lot like me. A comedian who had an estranged relationship to fitness and her body, but a desire to tap into something more.
And I remember talking to her in the early days, and watching and reading along as she transformed into the powerful athlete and mentor she is now… and it is incredible.
When she decided to become a Coach, she retired her blog, and I took over. And that’s where my journey began. On the strong shoulders of Coach Jenn.
Uh oh. I might be getting weepy again…
Coach Jenn went onto to help start The Body Adapt program. A 6 week program for beginners like me who want to gently try something that can be potentially so scary.
And that’s where Maureen comes in. Maureen is a friend and fellow improviser who read my blog, and was so supportive. And after awhile, the blog inspired her to try the Body Adapt Class, taught by –you guessed it!– Coach Jenn.
Here she is back-squatting over 290 pounds. 292.11 to be exact!
And now here we are. The three of us. Working out together. Coach Jenn is recovering from that weightlifting meet, where she made a lifetime PR in the backsquat. It occurs to me that I don’t need Coach Jenn to hold my hand anymore, because I am strong enough to make my way now. But I still get a kick out of her backsquatting behind me. I am thrilled that we are working out together. Like fellow athletes.
Maureen knows how to do all the moves, and she doesn’t need me to hold her hand either. Maureen and I are sharing a barbell like it’s no big thing. We’re lifting the same weight. Like fellow athletes.
* * *
Cut back to the three of us hugging before the 6:30 class begins.
We pull away, and Maureen says, “You know, you two are the reason I’m here. Lauren, for your blog, and Jenn, you were my Body Adapt coach.”
And I looked at Jenn and Maureen and said, “And Jenn is the reason I’m here, and Maureen you’re the reason I’m here tonight. No one keeps me more accountable than you.”
Coach Jenn laughed and said, “Hell yes. Let’s do this.” And class began.
I couldn’t help but think we’re all standing on the shoulders of Giants in some way… and what a gift it is to realize it.
And with that, I may or may not have let the tears fall on our warm up jog down the alley.