When I signed up for Improv 101 at Push Comedy Theater in June of 2018 it never occurred to me how big of an impact both, the art of improv and the theater where I took classes, would have on my life. Before taking improv, I had never seen an improv show. I had heard of it; lots of my favorite comedians have mentioned improv in interviews. I knew it was all made-up on the spot and funny (or, supposed to be). Although I’m an introvert, I can stand at the front of a room full of people and talk or give a presentation. Improv, isn’t like that. It’s like jumping into a body of water not knowing if you’ll sink or swim, but having confidence in your partner, knowing they will not let you drown, or they’ll drown with you.
Admittedly, I struggled through 101; as someone who has a nonstop internal monologue, going blank during a scene was highly anxiety inducing. I cannot tell you how many times my instructor, Brad, would start a scene and I would look at him like was speaking a foreign language. I even damn near cried one night. Somehow I got through it. After our graduation show, I immediately knew I was going to take the next class, Improv 201. I had not felt that kind of excitement in a long time. It ignited a spark.
Several months later (life kept getting in the way), I finally took Improv 201. I was in the middle of the worst depressive episode I’d had in years. I forced myself to take the class. There were many nights I had to force myself to even go. I enjoyed the class, but I was still in my shell. I had a hard time breaking through. I was in my head; full of anxiety and under a cloud of depression, until one night when it finally clicked. As usual, I waited to be the last person to do the exercise for what we were learning that night (character). I’m not sure if it was the enthusiasm for what our instructor was teaching, or just his general embodiment of love and encouragement, that pushed me through, but I finally let go. I didn’t think. I fell into the character. I, again, felt the high I experienced after the 101 grad show. However, this time, I felt settled. I continued to take classes all the way through Improv 501. I’ve been on two house (theater) improv teams, also.
Doing improv is like a drug for me. The feeling I have after performing a set is a bit heady, like I’m high. Improv is unlike any other performance art I’ve seen or been a part of. The first rule of improv is, “Make your partner look good.” It isn’t about show-boating, being the center of attention, or shitting on others to make yourself the star of the show. It’s a partnership. It’s about working together to create a piece of art, on the spot, enjoying the journey along the way, without any idea of where you’ll end-up. If you fail, you fail together. If you succeed, you succeed together. The very first concept we learn is how to Yes, and… It teaches you how to listen to respond, react, and accept what you’re being given, and then build on that.
Push Comedy Theater and improv came to me at topsy-turvy time in my life. My husband and I were separated. I was having trouble finding a job. We had moved to VA two years prior, and I had not made any friends. The Push community is full of creative, encouraging, welcoming, and amazing folks. I am lucky and proud to be a part of it. I have made many friends. I have a creative outlet. I have a place I consider a second home. The pandemic has not been easy on the theater. It cannot open. However, like the good little improvisors we are, we have the theater’s back. We will not let it fall. As a community, we are coming together, raising and donating money, so that when “the rona times” end, we can all gather at our second home, eat wieners, drink beer and wine, and laugh until tears roll down our cheeks. Oh, and hugs, there will be lots of hugs.
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