This past week I saw “Don’t Think Twice,” a movie that lovingly portrays the lives and world of a group of long form improvisers. I liked so many things about the movie, not the least of which was its acknowledgment of the founders of improvisational theater, Viola Spolin, Paul Sills, and its several references to “things Del Close said.” And how cool that the movie’s first images, via early archival footage from “The Second City,” were of the great Severn Darden, considered by all who knew him and worked with him to be “the improviser’s improviser.”

I was lucky to count Severn as a friend, from the time I was introduced to him by Del Close, until his death in 1995. And from the first night I met Severn and watched him on stage guesting in an improvised set at “The Committee,” he imparted to me fundamental lessons about the power of improvisation and the imagination. From the moment he stepped on stage, and throughout that set, Severn’s unique talent shined.

I’ll never forget the last improvisation of that evening. He and John Brent played two butlers at an upper, upper class English Manor (think “Downton Abbey” on acid), setting a banquet table for a sumptuous dinner. “Setting the table” was a balletic display of precision space work by both players. Near the end, Severn stopped, turned to John, and asked in a crazily offbeat British accent: “Shall we use the large plates or the small plates?” John, in a uniquely “hipster” version of Victorian English, replied: “The large plates.”

Severn walked to an imaginary credenza and, taking John quite literally, brought out VERY LARGE plates. Severn’s “space” plates were at least three feet in diameter, and must have weighed a couple hundred pounds each! Severn strained under their weight and finished the job. “There!” he said. The audience was blown away by the simple absurdity of Severn’s choice. And I was doubly blown away, as Del’s pick to be the next hire into “The Committee,” watching this master of the art of improvisation. From that evening, and particularly that moment, I observed (while laughing my ass off):

1) Severn’s instinct to take John literally was the ultimate in what is now generally referred to as the “and” part of “yes, and.” John said large plates and Severn “OVER accepted.” It was logic taken to the extreme, and it was perfect!

2) I saw how, in improvisation, a fearless imagination can manifest in a stunningly unlikely active choice that overcomes our everyday expectations and preconceptions, including, in this case, our interactions in the physical universe (do not try this at home!).

3) And because Severn was so completely and uniquely Severn – his work and his very presence sent the message that I, the “new kid at the party,” must challenge myself not to copy him, but to learn from him and trust even more deeply in my own unique way of playing with such complete freedom.

Watching Severn work for the first time was for me an “aha” moment. And, to this day, I feel grateful for the good fortune to have fond memories and funny “Severn stories” from the times I spent both working and hanging out with him through the years. The fact that Severn was honored in the opening shot of “Don’t Think Twice” predisposed me to, well, not think twice about thoroughly enjoying the movie.