Taking a pro-level improv class to reconnect with her MIA stage presence.
Why did you feel it was important to do this?
I did a lot of theatre in high school, and was involved in the Vagina Monologues in university. Upon graduating, I knew I needed something to keep me on stage – it’s always been a great creative outlet for me. A lot of friends and family suggested I try improv.
Other than a creative outlet, there were a couple of other things I hoped to get out of the experience. When I took the Practical Women’s Guide to Living an Adventurous Life workshop I was transitioning from university into the “real world” and was feeling pretty unsure of everything. Improv is not about coming up with clever or funny skits on stage, it’s about completely letting go and being entirely in the moment. It’s also about teamwork and playing off of the “offers” given to you by the other actors on stage. Considering where I was at when I first decided I wanted to do improv, it seemed like those were exactly the things I needed. I wanted to stop caring, to stop overthinking, to have fun and to really get my “Sarah” back – because she seemed to be a little MIA. I was definitely in a rut.
What were the biggest obstacles preventing you from going ahead?
A couple of things stopped me from signing up for improv. First of all, it was expensive. There are very few places in Toronto that put on a class that is less than $200. Second of all, like I mentioned before, I just wasn’t feeling totally myself after graduating university. It was such a weird, in-between time and I just didn’t feel as secure as I usually do. As the result, I had all of these concerns that I wouldn’t be very good at improv, that I wouldn’t be “funny” enough (which is not what improv is about), and that I might say something that would offend someone or not resonate with the audience. I was coming up with so many excuses and for a long time, it was working.
What tools/tactics did you use to overcome these obstacles?
One of the ways I overcame the obstacles was by just giving myself a date by which I had to take an improv class and committing to it. I didn’t give myself another option – I just kind of forced myself to do it. On top of that, I mentioned my interest in improv to my life coach who I had been working with to get out of the rut I was in and she was pretty confident that it was exactly what I needed to do for myself and pushed me even further. I also asked some friends who had taken classes about their own experiences and they encouraged me to do it as well.
To deal with the money part, I reached out to the owner of an improv club whose email I found online and said that I could not afford most classes in the city and was wondering if he knew about anything being offered for less for someone who did not have a lot of experience and just wanted to have fun. He told me about his $5 drop-in class and I went to that. Then a couple of months later he reached out to me because he had a spot in a more advanced class that he needed to fill and offered me a reduced rate if I did it. It was kind of serendipitous but I guess I overcame it by reaching out to people and building/maintaining relationships with those involved in the community. I know this doesn’t always work in all situations related to money but I guess it speaks to the power of networking and making connections with the people who can help you reach your goal.
Did any of your worst fears come true in the doing of it and if so, how did you cope?
None of my fears came true. I completely committed to letting go and not caring about what happened before entering the class and everything went really well. I only went into it with a sense of fun, and fun was exactly what happened. I actually ended up in a class where most of the other actors had formally studied improv or did it professionally. I chose not to be intimidated by this and the results were fabulous. I had a great time and was surprised by how well I did considering my lack of experience.
What did you gain from this adventure?
What I gained from this experience is a greater understanding of the potential that lies in getting out of your head, letting go of your expectations of yourself, and just acting as though in a state of constant play. Life, as I have heard many people say, is really a giant improvisation, but I also think that we often get so consumed by our own insecurities that we hold ourselves back from what we instinctually want to do with it all. With improv, you are given this opportunity to just stop worrying about what will work or what will be funny – but to react instinctually to situations and the other actors on stage, committing yourself to the most organic make-believe possible. It’s really challenging, but once you find the place where the magic happens, it’s also very liberating.
I think it’s so critical to identify goals, obstacles, and how to overcome obstacles. I definitely don’t give myself enough time to figuring out what it is I’d truly like to have for myself in life and as a result, I know can stunt my own growth and probably miss out on my full potential as a human. Knowing what it was that I wanted, especially because it was scary to me, was the first step to starting to live an adventurous life – and I may not have identified what it was I wanted (and perhaps instinctually, what I knew I needed) without participating in the workshop. So thanks! J