Teens these days.


(Photo: Carol Kaliff, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Today kids across America walked out of school to protest gun violence and the inability for our government to pass common sense gun control.

That’s incredible. I can only imagine being a government & politics teacher, or any other branch of history/American studies, and witnessing your students actively participating in and organizing peaceful protests. Or deciding not to participate because they didn’t agree with the protests. Either way, it’s a teach by doing moment. It’s teaching kids to be actionable instead of simply memorizing facts or spitting out theory.

Facebook is flooded with posts of alum, teachers and parents talking about the school walkouts or walk ins, where assemblies are being held in memory of the students killed due to gun violence. CNN is live-streaming the walkouts and the words of our CT Senator Chris Murphy. Across the nation kids are holding up signs stating their beliefs and desire for the adults in charge to be actionable. They are no longer complicit and trusting that adults will get the work done. The Parkland students showed them that their voice matters even when they are unable to vote. That you don’t have to wait until you’re 18 to voice political opinions.

I was young for my grade and didn’t turn 18 until I was in college. I remember being furious that I couldn’t vote in the primaries that year, even though I would be 18 by the general election. I was always highly opinionated when it came to politics, thanks to my mother who was always a well-informed citizen and my brother, who walked into the Democratic Headquarters at 16 to start volunteering. I would tag along with him, making calls to remind democrats and independents to vote, checking in on our elderly residents to see if any needed rides to polls, attending Chris Murphy’s debates when running for Congress, joining the Young Dems chapter my brother helped start and my favorite part of the process: going from poll to poll on election night to watch them count then ending back at Headquarters or a restaurant to hear the results roll in. I couldn’t vote, but I was more engaged in the political process than most adults.

Which was why I was furious when adults would undermine my intelligence in my teenage years. I would often hear that my opinions, and the opinions of my peers, were just echos of my family’s beliefs. I understand the thought, and recognize that may be true in some cases, but I could never understand why my civics teacher would take so much time explaining our nation’s workings to us, only to tell me that my opinions were just something I inherited from my parents when I got in a fight with a classmate over Bush’s reelection. Of course my family influenced my beliefs, but I was also smart enough to research and act on my own. I was old enough to hold opinions.

I remember a car ride where my mom and brother were talking a politics. I listened without much input, thinking instead of my recent civics lesson on political parties.

“What if I’m a Republican instead of a Democrat?” I asked my family.

I was constantly the lawyer of the family. I always wanted to think about situations from a different angle. A contrarian, always thinking of the other side before agreeing with my family.

“Your beliefs line up with the Democratic Party,” my mom replied.

“But what if they don’t? What if I’m a Republican instead?” I asked.

“Then you can be a Republican.”

I went home and did all the research I could on both parties. I spent hours trying to understand the difference and political platforms. I weighed policies against my moral beliefs and found that I did side with the Dems.

All of this was done my freshman year of high school. Clearly I was already intelligent and thoughtful enough to question my beliefs and recheck them against my political affiliation. My thoughts and opinions haven’t changed much. They evolved slightly with the times and my maturity. Whereas I used to think we should eliminate marriage entirely, calling everything a civil union, so we can eliminate the religious context of marriage, I’ve realized that battle gets misconstrued and calling everything a marriage is a better angle. I used to be much more fiscally liberal that I am today. I used to be pro-choice under medical necessity but am now entirely pro-choice. Tiny tweaks, but my adult mind is still in line with my teen mind.

So I still get angry that I was always underestimated. That adults did not believe that I researched my policies enough. To be fair, this still happens. I was constantly accused for siding with Hillary instead of Bernie because she was a woman, when in reality I thought she was the most qualified candidate we ever had and her fiscally moderate policies enabled me to reap benefits while still covering costs of social security and welfare.

People may say that I was a different type of teen. That not everyone was as mature. Well then, why not teach them to find their own opinions instead of dismissing them?

I think adults fall into an awful habit of thinking kids don’t know enough. We talk down to them and assume they can’t possibly understand. But clearly they do.

Today’s teens are living in a world where any question they have can be answered in a matter of seconds on their phones. Teenagers are actually MUCH better at recognizing “fake news” than we are. Aside from their obvious increased technical literacy, they’re also taught how to seek out information. As students, they have access to online encyclopedias and academic research. They’re constantly being told not to trust sites like Facebook and Wikipedia, and instead fact check every piece of information they want to use. They’re writing research reports and getting graded on whether or not their facts are confirmed. They’re much better at finding the truth than we are.

Without the ability to vote, I believe they’re getting antsy. I remember talking to my cousins, just shy of 18, about how much it sucked to be unable to vote in such an important presidential election. And now here we are, with massive school shootings happening at levels that I can’t even comprehend, and they’re done with us adults. They can’t vote, but they can speak for themselves and remind politicians that they’re voting very, very soon.

We need to stop underestimating kids and instead listen to them. That’s how I treat the kids I babysit. I never want to influence their own moral and political beliefs, so I just listen to them and encourage them to think about where they stand. The other day a kid I babysat was doing a project on trans kids and I found that she knew way more than even I did. I offered no opinions and instead just let her inform me on the topic. When I was watching some younger kids, someone came to the door who was running for local office. What followed was an hour long conversation with the kids about what their platforms would be and how they can run for office within their school. While I would steer at times, like suggesting they invest in scientific research when they said they wanted to stop all hurricanes, I let them carry the conversation.

We invest so much time and money into our kids and their education. But often when they want to show us the results of that investment, we don’t listen. While what happened at Stoneman Douglas was horrific, it is inspiring to see the students use their voices and speak up for themselves when a politician is dismissive of their question. Unless you’re a teacher or school employee, the topic of school shootings will ALWAYS impact the kids in your life more than it will ever impact you. Empower them to use their voices, especially if they’re teenagers. I’m so proud of these teens who are speaking up for the students in Sandy Hook who are still too young to speak for themselves. There are no longer only parents representing their students, but students themselves being actionable.

Keep going teens. Stand up for what you believe in and know that your mind is worthy of respect and your opinions are worth being heard.

Thoughts on a bad day of improv.


You’re inevitably going to feel like shit after a bad show, audition or class. It’ll happen. Here’s how I get out of my funk:

1. “You do not have the right to use this art form to feel bad about yourself” – Martin de Maat

I love this quote. Improv, at it’s core, is an art form that is meant to make people happy. You are making people laugh. I repeat, you are making people laugh. You are brightening someone’s day… inflicting happiness. Who the hell are you to use an art form born from happiness to feel bad about yourself? The VERY first thing you learn in improv is that you have to love and respect your teammate. You would never go up to them after a show and tell them that they really could have done better. That they’re shit and should really consider quitting. You would never tell your teammate that the reason the show bombed was because of their initiation… that if they were just a little more on their game, you could have succeeded. So why are you saying this to yourself?

2. No one is forcing you to do this.

Like most art forms, you are doing this because you love it. Because you’re passionate about it. No one is forcing you… it’s not like your parents will feel let down if you don’t succeed. If anything, quitting means that you’ll save them many sleepless nights. So why are you doing it? It makes you happy. If it no longer makes you happy then you seriously need to readjust your attitude. If you strip it all down, there are many negative things about studying improv. It’s expensive, it makes you vulnerable, you don’t get much sleep, you’re going to doubt yourself constantly, you’re not going to make much money and only a handful of people are going to really “make it” in the comedy world. So why do I even bother? Because the environment is intoxicating. Because I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. Because I love it. It all comes down to that… I love it. Remind yourself that you can quit at anytime but you’re conciously choosing not to. There’s something in that little fact that you should extract and remember in times of self-doubt.

3. Trust in the compliments you receive.

I know the difference between an empty compliment and a sincere one. You do too. People are so transparent. Chances are that you’ve received many compliments and words of encouragement… but you try to convince yourself that people are just trying to be nice. That’s bullshit. You know when someone is just trying to be nice. After studying this thing for over a year, I’ve received both types of compliments. It’s black and white. There’s a huge difference between being told “You were great!” and “I know you’re going to do great things”…between “Keep in touch!” and “I will help you in any way I can”… between the audience laughing then moving on and hearing “Wow… that was good” three seconds after the laughter fades. Keep an ear peeled for sincerity and believe that people aren’t investing in something that they don’t believe in.

4. Reflect.

I have a big audition this week. I was ordering headshots for it when I had a flashback to my very first audition. I was terrified. I remember praying that I would arrive late so that I would have a reason to miss the audition. Somehow I convinced myself to go in. What happened? I was terrible. I mean, really terrible. I did a scene where I was a nun who gave out blowjobs. I wish I were kidding. I cracked up hysterically remembering this because it’s the complete opposite of who I am as a performer. I’m known for strong female roles… I’m the type of person whose eyes would pop out of her head seeing the scene I auditioned with. Instead of being nervous about my upcoming audition, I’m extremely proud of the type of improviser I’ve grown into. If I went from being a blowjob nun to being able to freestyle rap about equal pay in just a year… then I have faith in my future.

5. Redirect your disappointment.

At the core, disappointment only means that you care. Instead of being hard on yourself, redirect your energy and be proud that you care enough about this art form to evaluate how you did. Learn to grow from bad shows instead of dwelling on them. It does no good to sit and feel shitty. Ask yourself why you’re feeling bad? Are you just being a dick or did you really do something wrong? Did you support your teammates? Did you pay attention and live in the moment? What skills do you need to work on? Everyone makes mistakes. Improv is literally making shit up on the fly. It’s sitting back and trusting that your mind is skilled enough to hit hard. That means that everyone is subject to a bad show every now and again. Sometimes you just had a bad day and your mind was too distracted to work properly. It happens. A bad show doesn’t make you a bad performer. Break it down and try to figure out why you didn’t kill. It doesn’t do anyone any good to just sit and pout.

6. You’re never going to be good enough…

…for yourself. You’re just not. You will have your days where you feel great and are proud of how well you did… but even on those days, you could probably find a way to improve. I used to be really hard on myself. Now, I’d say that I’m a pretty confident person and performer. One of the things that helped along the way was Jay Sukow’s advice to let your teachers & directors tell you when you need to improve on something, not yourself. That’s their job, not yours.

7. Don’t be the asshole.

One of my favorite improv quotes is Susan Messing’s “If you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole.” This doesn’t just apply to improvising, but the atmosphere after as well. There’s nothing worse than having one of your teammates wallow in a hole of self pity after a show when they really didn’t perform half as bad as they thought they did. No matter what you say, you can’t convince them that they were great. They’re someone you looked up to… someone who you thought was immensely talented. Now that image is tarnished in realizing that they aren’t confident. Well if they feel bad about their performance, then I must be really horrible. Don’t be that asshole. If you feel like shit, pretend that you don’t. You’re an actor, after all.

8. Feeling bad about yourself will never move you forward.

Never. Guys… improvising, by definition, is to “create and perform spontaneously or without preparation.” You are literally making things up. If you’re nervous or in a period of self-loathing, you’re only hurting yourself. Why fill your head with horrible thoughts when you could occupy the space with something more constructive. When I head to an audition or show these days, instead of getting nervous, I tell myself that I’m going to crush it. I read cards and notes from my past teachers, directors and classmates that are filled with compliments and encouragement. I walk into the room with confidence and tell myself that I’m talented enough to kill it. So much of it is a mind game. Even when you don’t feel like you’re incredible and talented, you have to momentarily convince yourself that you are. When you think that you can do no wrong, you are able to take risks and show off your talent. I can’t trust myself to improvise inside of a head filled with bad thoughts… so no matter how I really feel that day, I meditate. I remove all the bad thoughts then play the role of a confident performer (probably thanks in part to my pre-show/audition ritual of playing Beyonce’s “Diva.”)

9. Uh… did you realize that you’re facing most people’s biggest fear?

Public speaking is consistently ranked as one of the top two biggest fears. You are not only public speaking, but you’re speaking off the top of your mind. In front of an audience. An audience that expects you to be funny. Uh… that’s a big deal. Most people would never do that. I never had stage fright so sometimes I forget this… it only takes having my non-improv friends in the audience to remember. No matter how great or horrible the show is, the first thing anyone says to me is “I don’t know how you do it.” People respect you for just showing up. That’s big.

10. Hey, it’s about having fun.

My love of improv isn’t all about great shows and nailing auditions. It’s about the notebook that I have filled with quotes about life. Late nights at Ale House spent with the strangest, but most incredible, people I know. The happiness that I didn’t have in my life a year ago.Times where I had to leave the room to calm myself down because I was laughing too hard. Days where I entered the building with tears in my eyes from a horrible day and immediately cheered up after seeing someone I love. Moments of inspiration during times of self doubt. Learning to love myself and others around me. It’s not about how well I did during a set. It was never about that.