August 21, 2013

How Improv Made Me a Star on Life’s Stage. ~ Amy Angelilli

I always wanted to do stand up comedy.

What could be better than making people laugh? Laughter is, after all, one of life’s best remedies. Then I started thinking about the nitty-gritty of it:

1. I’d be on stage alone.

2. I’d write stuff—then deliver that stuff on stage alone.

3. I’d hear the reaction from the audience and if it was bad—or even worse, crickets—I’d still be on stage alone.

Suddenly the reality of it wasn’t so appealing.

Then I got divorced.

Divorce can be a funny thing. Okay, well really not funny—let’s call it interesting. Out of sadness and anger comes a rebirth. Sometimes the rebirth is in the form of drunken sexual escapades and sometimes in the form of a new car. For me, it was comedy improvisation.

At first improv was a way to dodge the stand up bullet when friends said, “Now’s the time to take a stand up workshop. You’re getting divorced; you have lots of material.” And then something funny happened. Okay, well not really funny—let’s call it unexpected. Improv became a sort of therapy to help me transition into my new life.

According to the North Hastings High School improv team website, “Improv consists of developing scenes spontaneously. It requires quick thinking and a tremendous amount of teamwork among those performing the scene.”

After a divorce, isn’t your whole new life about being spontaneous and quick thinking? Don’t you have to develop your team, so you have a support system to help you move forward? Isn’t every interaction with someone a scene in your life?

Wait—isn’t every interaction with someone a scene in your life? Divorce or no divorce, this is life. Right?

Once I got through learning improv performance games and the thrill of making my friends laugh, I moved to Denver without knowing anyone. Within eight weeks, I was enrolled in the Bovine Metropolis School of Improv Theater. I played new games, I made new friends and somewhere along the way I began having a new experience. I started digging deeper. I opened myself up. I left myself vulnerable enough to be authentic.

Then, a funny thing happened. Okay, well not really funny—let’s call it magical. I discovered mindful improv. Through this discovery, improv became a life skill with a minor role on the stage. Life is unscripted. Isn’t the starring role you play in your own life the most important one you’ll ever have?

So, I invite you to bring mindfulness into your life by way of an improv class or workshop. Here’s how it came to me without having to perform for an audience:

1. I developed an amazing sense of the present. Improv is about the moment, it didn’t allow me to dwell in the past or worry about the future. If I wasn’t present, then the scene I was in—whether on stage or off—sucked.

2. I explored my creativity in ways that have nothing to do with being a performing artist. I tapped into parts of myself that aren’t present in everyday life. I let my guard down and had fun doing it.

3. Inspiration happened. I was inspired to keep trying new things. I was inspired to think about how different activities could benefit my life and help me to be whole. And most importantly, I was inspired to be spontaneous.

4. By accident, I was developing a team—actually, a community. There was my community of classmates, my community of scene partners and the general improv community as a whole. So often, after we leave a school setting, we lose touch with community. Only when I found myself in a community again did I realize how much I missed it and how powerful it can be.

5. Breathing became fun again! In yoga, I breathe because it’s part of the deal. It’s good. I enjoy it. Through improv I started breathing because it forced me to slow down and embrace whatever was in front of me—no matter how weird. (See #6)

6. I started becoming a “yes” (wo)man! Good improvisers say “yes” to their scene partners. Great improvisers say “yes, and” to their scene partners. Saying “yes, and” found me a husband in the weird world of online dating!

7. I began learning the art of authenticity. A few years ago I went on an audition after reconnecting with my high school prom date after 20 years. The raw emotion that lingered from that experience led to an audition filled with real feelings. And yes, I got into the group, but I also got into my heart.

8. There were fewer “couldas,” “wouldas,” “shouldas.” We all beat ourselves up over decisions we’ve made. But guess what? They are over, just like an improv scene. Once a decision is made—in life or in improv—it’s done. Why harp on it? One thing I appreciate about my improv community is that no matter how good or bad an improv performance was, we all say the same thing, “We’ll never see that again!” Forward march!

9. Improv and mindfulness have two core components in common: trust and non-judgment. Using these concepts, I began hosting improv workshops for at-risk youth. And guess what? Kids with attitudes turned into kids with life skills.

10. Even though top 10 lists are way more fun than top 9 lists, I’m leaving #10 open. I could fill it with another way that mindfulness married improv in my life; but instead, I leave it open for you to fill in your own experience.

If you make it to the stage after taking an improv class, I applaud you. Bravo! But if your mindfulness meter spikes, then that’s when you really become the star on life’s stage.


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Assistant Ed: Ben Neal/Ed: Bryonie Wise

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