I found it very difficult to write this, as the irrefutable impact improv has had on my life seems endless. I can confidently say this form of comedy has improved my life for the better in almost every area. Improvisational comedy is my safe space, and has become my outlet for creativity, communication, and emotional expression.
I occasionally watched Whose Line Is It Anyway? growing up, and had an idea of what improv was all about. It wasn’t until I started taking classes with Shut the Front Door that I truly grasped the cognitive ability required to engage in such an activity. I wasn’t overly involved with the dramatic arts throughout high school, and had minimal experience in the area. I was comfortable speaking in front of crowds, but I didn’t feel confident memorizing lines. I always had a desire to be in the spotlight, and once I found improv, everything came together.
I’ve always had a rapid brain, and as I grew up, I found it exceedingly more difficult to convey my feelings. Though I was able to form and maintain relationships, I never felt like I was able to communicate how I felt with others, and more so myself. Everything seemed jumbled and scattered in my mind, and I was often frustrated because I couldn’t bring out what I felt inside. I did the best I could, but I was never truly satisfied with the way I defined myself. I had a strong foundation of creativity, public speaking, and teamwork/leadership skills, but it wasn’t until I tried improv that I was able to tap into my core and truly harness those qualities. Upon working my way through the improv classes provided by Shut the Front Door, I began to feel a significant shift in my brain.
Through the class exercises and activities, I was provided with encouragement and the opportunity to try new things, while finessing the skills I had already acquired. The teachers and students were tremendously supportive, and I never once felt scrutinized. The games we played may have seemed simple at times, but they always had an underlying purpose. I was able to connect with a new part of my imagination, and I realized improv was the piece of me that had always been missing. My husband Nick, our families, and my friends have noticed a significant improvement in my mood, temperament, and quality of life after joining the improv community. I was finally able to communicate in the ways I’d always intended, and I found my frustration and stress levels radically reduced.
Improv continuously exercises a muscle in my brain that had been left untouched. When I was 17, I lost one of my best friends to brain cancer, and when I was 21, I lost my dad to the same disease. I never truly dealt with those traumas, and chose to hide the feelings deep within. Improv gave me the courage to peer deep within myself and question my values. Did I want to keep everything bottled up for the rest of my life? Did I want to negatively displace my emotions and behaviours, and have them misconstrued because I couldn’t express myself properly? I decided I’d had enough, and I finally started talking. It took me 26 years, but it was better late than never, and it changed something in me for the better.
In the improv community, you are encouraged to take risks, speak your mind, and use your imagination. This is all done within a safe space free of judgment, and it was because of this secure environment I was able to reach deep within myself and figure out who I was. The people I met throughout this process were also overcoming their own adversities, which made the journey even more exciting. People young and old, of all ethnicities, with different jobs, were putting their differences aside to come together with a common goal. Not only that, but they embraced one another’s individuality without judgment or ignorance! The joy of watching strangers take risks, grow together, and overcome their own conflicts, all while creating a beautiful form of art through comedy, was empowering and incomparable.
I’m not saying everyone will come to the same existential realization I had upon trying improv, but I’m also not saying they won’t. I love making other people laugh, I love when others make me laugh, and I love giving back to the community. I look forward to every improv opportunity, and I’m genuinely disappointed when I go a week without it. If you’ve never tried improv, I urge you to step out of your comfort zone and give something new a shot. Start by going to a show, or even a free drop-in. I won’t be surprised if you’re instantly hooked!
Written by Jenn Charlebois, STFD performer