Just got home from my first improv class. It was a free improv class at ColdTowne Conservatory in Austin I found while googling “free improv classes near me.” On a whim, I decided to go by myself. I did it for my writing. I did it to get out of my comfort zone. I also did it as someone who struggles with social anxiety. And I figure with my naturally awkward and goofy self, I might actually be, dare I say, comfortable?
It was strangely comforting to be there, yet also intimidating, and at moments, highly anxiety-provoking. Especially when it’d be my turn to respond to another person, like a game of telephone that also involved physically re-enacting what the other person did and said with their body and voice. I had never done anything like this before. When anxious around people, I tend to smile and laugh a lot, so much so that my face hurts like that swollen feeling around your cheeks after a visit to the dentist. But fortunately, there was plenty of genuine laughter too, so by the end of the night (it was only an hour-long class), I walked away smiling, relieved I had left my comfort zone, both physically and mentally, to try something so drastically new. And weird. But weird is good, right? After all, this is Austin.
I had decided to try this because I had read somewhere that doing improv helps you with your writing, especially with dialogue. Having to come up, on the fly, with something else to say, riffing on what another person orally lobs your way, is a skill that fiction writers can definitely use. Something that required active use of your imagination grounded with a semblance of reality. Also I learned that there were different kinds of improv, and the one I was learning tonight was some kind of “Chicago-style,” as opposed to “narrative style,” which focuses more on coming up with a beginning, middle and end. That sparked my curiosity, since my intent on improv is to improve my writing, so I may have to try that style next.
Our teacher was excellent, making everyone feel immediately comfortable, having us introduce ourselves with only our first names and an accompanying physical gesture, which everyone in our circle had to emulate. When it was my turn, I was a preschooler all over again, throwing up my hands as if burnt by fire, adding: “I’m Lily!” My cheeks certainly blazed an internal inferno as soon as I said it. And I watched everyone, one-by-one, like dominos cascading, copy me with an exaggerated lift of their two hands, simultaneously worried I was being mocked yet also self-congratulating myself that my physical intro was closer to Kramer from Seinfield — so not a bad start! (When my 15-year-old son found out I was trying improv for the first time and I invited him to join me, he shook his head no. He said something about it being “too cringe-y” to watch. Whatever. His loss.)
I really enjoyed trying improv, and later, chatting with others in the class about why they were trying it too. One guy said he was trying to get into his “right-brain” more, and another young mom said she had worked in tech for years, but needed to add more creativity into her life. There were a mix of ages in our group. Afterwards, we were gifted free tickets to watch three comedy troupes do improv on the same stage we had taken our free class. Watching them perform made me appreciate just how difficult it is to think on your feet without a script or direction yet make the audience laugh. In my case, I almost cried from laughing so hard.
And when I walked away to head back home, my cheeks were sore yet my heart was happy. I realize that laughter combined with trying something completely new (namely, getting out of my comfort zone) helps me grow as a person. Plus I’ve been reading that laughter activates your vagus nerve, great for depression and anxiety. (Another reason to laugh more!)
In the end, I came for the writing, yet left with my heart full and my spirits invigorated. Have you ever used improv for your own writing?