Why improv is really important.

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This past Thursday was awful. There’s no sugar coating it. It just was. Life happened and I was just trying to stay afloat.

On Thursdays I have my conservatory class at Second City. We’re more than halfway through the term, and have an audition coming up, which means we work. Hard. Our teacher pushes us and doesn’t let us slack. Since I’ve had this teacher before, he doesn’t let me rest on my bag of tricks and pushes me to expand my range. Which is what I’m there for, which is what I love about him as a teacher. But on Thursday I just wasn’t having it. My only goal was to last three hours without running out of class.

So I let myself slack without feeling bad about it. I was proud of myself for even going. I was elated when I did something useful and wasn’t hard on myself when I was called out for being in my head. Just show up. Just commit. That’s all I that expected.

Then during break I got some really rough news. I felt like someone gutted me, like the tiny sliver of control I had (and so desperately needed) was stolen and smashed on the floor. I was devastated and done. Just done with it all. The numbness that I felt for days suddenly became raw emotion and I didn’t know what to do. My body went on autopilot and I went back to class.

Autopilot Annie went up to my teacher and told him all that I could bring myself to say: “Just so you know, some really weird things are happening in my life right now and if I have to leave, that’s why.” My teacher told me to leave and take care of myself, but I knew that to take care of myself, I had to stay.

I turned around to find my class expressing genuine concern and sympathy for me, and not that fake puppy face shit, but genuinely asking if I’m okay. I assured everyone that I was fine, while trying to reassure myself that I would be. I sat down and kind of thought to myself, “Welp, now you have nothing to lose.”

The next hour and a half was spent not caring. I didn’t care about being good, or challenged, or expanding my range. I only listened to directions enough to perform the exercise, without trying to find exactly what he wanted. Everything went away: worrying about making my scene partner look good, worrying about whether or not I knew what was going on in a scene, finding relationships, setting up premise… all of it was forgotten.

I just wanted to laugh. I just wanted to make my classmates laugh. That’s it.

What I needed during that second half was an escape from reality. So much shit was in my head from the past week and I just wanted to feel happy again. I was sick of being numb and not having control. I so desperately wanted to be happy. And I was.

My teammates were so willing to join in on the fun. We all let loose and just fucking played like kids on a playground. My teammates and teacher just let me run around like a loose cannon and do whatever the hell I wanted to do. And for 90 fucking minutes I was able to leave all the shit behind and enjoy the moment. That’s what improv does. That’s why we do this.

So often we get bogged down in the hard work and late nights and forget that it’s about spreading joy, and bringing joy to yourself in return. Do you understand how powerful having the ability to improvise is? You’re able to escape whatever shit is happening in life and just play. Not only that, but you don’t do it alone. You have an entire team ready and willing to go down that hole with you. Ready to support you in any capacity.

I can’t tell you what I did on Thursday. I vaguely remember buttering biscuits and gutting someone. I blacked out and don’t remember the rest. All I remember is the incredibly alleviating feeling of forgetting that anything in my life was wrong. That’s what improv does. It reminds you that there can still be joy and fun, even when it feels like nothing is fun anymore.

At the end of class, my teacher came up to me and told me that I was really fun, and funny, and fucking weird… and that he hopes everything is okay. My classmates did something similar. And while I usually avoid any and all compliments, I really needed that reminder. I’m so fortunate to have such a wonderfully supportive and loving team. I know that it’s rare and special and I cherish the fuck out of every second I spend with these guys.

It’s natural to get caught up in pressure, expectations and being so tired because you are working so hard. But every now and again, give yourself permission to throw everything away and just play. It’s really important.

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