Improv has been a great outlet/hobby/activity/distraction, all of the above, for me as a mom. After the birth of my second child, I fell into a postpartum rut. I loved my kids, but I felt so lost about who I was aside from them. I started browsing through the local Parks and Rec magazine looking for an enrichment class. Between Line Dancing and How to Have a Conversation I found Held2gether: Improv for Life. Improv was the perfect way for me to escape and do some acting minus the homework. Then, one short year later, I was forced to take a break from everything due to some scary pregnancy complications. Thankfully, this baby made it and I’m now the mother of 3 beautiful children who are 9-, 7-, and 4-years-old. My little one did continue to scare us with a couple of medical issues during the first two months of his life. After his first birthday, when we knew we were in the clear, I could finally breathe and started craving something for myself again. So, I came back to Held2gether and started with the Sketch Writing Class. I wanted to do something creative, but was nervous about being on stage. The Sketch Writing Class was perfect because I could “perform” from behind my computer.
Since then, I’ve gotten my stage legs back, went on to perform live improv, participated in several scripted Sketch Shows, and was even part of Held2gether’s first scripted show, “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues,” which was a very heavy dark comedy dealing with sexual assault. Like any other play, this required homework and memorizing lines, but I was ready for it. I was in a place where I could dive deep into my character’s dreams and struggles. It felt so empowering channeling my emotions into this scripted play that paralleled many of today’s headlines. It was a far cry from my usual shows like Paw Patrol and My Little Pony. For the last 9 years, I’ve devoted my life to my three kids. Like many parents, we lose ourselves to raise our kids. It’s important and necessary work, but I lost myself. I still help with my kids’ schools and different non-profit Mommy groups, but I’m ready to discover who I am again aside from being a mom. I’m so grateful to Held2gether for putting on local theater productions to give me a chance to express myself here in Long Beach without having to drive two hours each way to Hollywood. Because, let’s be honest. I just don’t have time for that with my three kids. As much as I want a life of my own, my kids are still a big part of me.
Four years after my first workshop, I’ve realized all the conversations I never gave myself permission to have and the connection I once avoided out of fear are there on stage. Though I might still prefer to hide in the audience, improv pushes me to meet my own internal challenges. Uncomfortable emotions and foreign topics are open for exploration.
As for everyday life and “sane” people: eventually the line between it all blurred. Life seeped into improv and improv into life. I find myself slipping into characters and games in regular conversation. Now, my mom suggests sketch ideas. My dad creates characters. Timid friends let their goofiness show. Other people play along naturally, just as eager to share bits of their unexpressed personality and to connect through play.
After spending my life feeling subject to the world around me, saying “yes” to improv has given me courage to be myself and agency to shape my world.
When I first started taking improv classes over five years ago, I had no idea how it would change me. I love surprises and improv continues to give me little, cherished gifts that pop up out of the blue. I knew that improv would give me a new skill, but not a new community. I knew that I would be pretending to be other people, but didn’t realize that in doing that, I’d learn how to be myself. Oh! I could write a 2000 word essay on how it has changed me as a person, and how it can change you. But for the sake of brevity, I will be focusing on how it helped with my career as an attorney. Like so many of the other benefits of doing improv comedy, improving my professional skills through improv was an unanticipated but welcomed gift.
It will Make you a Better Speaker
The number 1 fear of people is public speaking. Now imagine, speaking when you haven’t learned a script, memorized a speech or even know what you will be speaking about until you are on stage. That’s what improv is. And that has carried over to the courtroom. I find myself better able to respond to unanticipated questions from the judge or arguments from my opposing counsel that I was not prepared for. I am able to think quicker on my feet and all of this has made me a much better litigator.
With improv, you will learn that if you plan, premeditate and have too much of an agenda, your scene will not go over well. How do you learn not to anticipate? You have to be present, young grasshopper. Learning to be in the moment has helped me respond thoroughly, genuinely and organically in the courtroom- often resulting in a thoughtful response that people find persuasive.
It will Make you a Better Listener.
One of the skills that you learn in improv is to listen to your scene partners. If you listen well, you will be able to respond with an observation that heightens the scene and can lead to hilarity. The better you listen, the better you will improvise.
Lawyers love to hear themselves speak. It’s irritating. I have heard lawyers yell over each other in the courtroom and are constantly focusing on what they want to say. But by learning how to listen better, I hear the arguments my opponent is spouting as opposed to just thinking about my response. Ironically, by listening better, I am able to poke holes in their argument or come up with a compromise that works in all parties favor.
It will Make you a Better Networker
Whether you are interviewing for a new job, or have to wine and dine business executives on a regular basis- Improv can help. First, as above, improv can make you a better listener which makes you likeable. It also can make you funnier, witty and more entertaining. All things that make you likeable. And Let’s be honest since most lawyer jokes end up with the lawyer being dead- we could use all the help we can get in the likeability department. Now, don’t get me wrong, people still don’t like me, but I’d like to think improv has made me a little more tolerable to others.
It also gives you something to talk about other than law. People hate “talking shop”- even at professional events. Lawyers are notorious for not having balance. Pity the person that is at a job interview and can’t come up with an answer to “What are your hobbies?” Unlike your children (people really don’t want to hear about your kids. No really. Just stop talking about them) or the weather, it sparks an interesting, honest conversation that isn’t mundane or ordinary. It’s the antithesis to small talk. Most people don’t know what improv comedy even is so they will ask follow up questions: “So you mean, you do stand up?” And then you have to explain (for the umpteenth time) that, no, improv is not the same thing as stand up..and voila! You are now great at engaging others in interesting conversation. Improv sets you apart and makes you memorable because it is such a unique hobby. I wouldn’t suggest going into improv just to become less dull- but it was one of the surprising consequences I soon realized when I told people I perform improv in my spare time.
It’s truly a Team Sport
Lawyers aren’t exactly known for being laid back. We probably had messed up childhoods where we learned to equate love with achievement and thus, we are competitive. When you become a lawyer, you are constantly trying to “win” an argument, motion, or trial. Improv gives you a break from all that competition in a way that sports and even theatre could never do for me.
With musical theatre, you have to audition with others, get rejected, and Ms. Dune always gives the lead to Lauren Torres anyways so what’s the point of even auditioning? Oh, sorry….that was my highschool experience. But with improv- there is none of that competitive stuff. To become good at improv, you actually have to play as a team. In fact, those that constantly try to “have their moment” often don’t do well at improv. As I have honed my improv skills, I have learned to play and work better with others- both on and off the stage!
You never know what your role is going to be until you are in a scene and you all work together. There are no solos. No stars. And No leads. Sometimes, you have to support others taking center stage and other times, you have to take the reigns and drive the scene. It changes by the moment and I think that’s what I love about it.
It Will Help You Take Risks and Fail
You essentially fail almost every time you do an improv scene in one way or another. You can’t think of what to say, you don’t listen to your partner, or you make a joke that lands flat.
But the more you fail in improv, the better you get. And when you catch your fails on stage while performing and call it out, it turns into a joke. Everyone laughs. You feel great. And you are ready to fail again! I failed so much that I can honestly say I am not afraid to fail in other areas of my life.
By learning how to take risks and fail with improv, I started taking more risks with my career. And yes, sometimes I failed. Fail. Try again. Fail. Fail. Succeed. Try something else. Fail. Fail. Succeed. That’s my trajectory these days. Recently, the willingness to fail has actually led me to have the courage to leave a very secure job and start my own firm because I saw the potential. I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen? My colleagues and associates will laugh at me!” …um, I pretended to be a broom with a hangover at improv class, last week. I can handle people laughing. Well, turns out that scary risk ended up being the best decision I have made in my life. In part, I think years of improv beforehand made me more comfortable with failing and trying something new.
Growing up, I’d play pretend constantly. Whether I was hosting a royal ball in my bedroom or singing to a crowd of thousands from our apartment balcony (deepest apologies to our neighbors), playing pretend helped me explore, imagine, and get creative––while also providing an escape.
I know I’m not alone in this. Playing pretend as a child isn’t groundbreaking. In fact, I’d bet most everyone did it. The real question is: with all the benefits it has to offer, why do we ever stop?
Something happens when we get older that makes us believe playing pretend just isn’t a ‘grown up’ thing to do. Societal pressure? Lack of time? Fear of being judged? Well I’m here to say: f*ck all that. Playing pretend is for everybody––ånd it’s really freakin’ good for you.
So, how do you jump back into the land of make-believe as an adult? The answer is simple: improv.
Unleash your imagination.
When we play pretend as kids, we get to be anyone, anywhere, doing anything we want––the options are only limited by the boundaries of our imagination. A jellyfish at a job interview? You got it. A princess lost in an underground jungle? Yes please. A superhero that can shoot fruit roll-ups out of their eyeballs? Sure, why the heck not?
But unfortunately as we get older, our wild imagination often gets stashed away, replaced instead by predictability and routine. Days start to look the same and blend together. Coffee, work, dinner, repeat. Boriiiiing. Meanwhile, our imagination is buried under a zillion errand and bill-related cobwebs begging to be rescued, dusted off, and put to good use.
Improv provides an outlet for tapping into your imagination on the regular. Every scene is a new opportunity to build entire worlds, try on different characters, and spin up unlikely circumstances alongside other improvisers.
Plus, there’s no room for routine in improv––it’s all made up on the spot so you have no idea what’ll happen next. This way, you’re pulled right out of the dull and predictable and thrown into practicing a flexible mindset that’ll prep you for just about anything that might come up in your everyday life (cough, cough… pandemic, anyone?).
Think back to your childhood self. Did you dance around without reason? Try out a funny voice to make people laugh? Pull goofy pranks on unassuming siblings? I know I did. Now, take a moment to reflect––when was the last time you took part in an act of complete and absolute silliness?
Been a while? That’s okay, the good news is improv is all about making big, bold, and silly choices. Maybe you’re in a scene as a talking alarm clock who’s tired of ringing. Or perhaps you’re an alien that only speaks in three-word phrases. Or an archaeologist that’s just discovered a rare species of heart-shaped dinosaurs. No matter the choices you make––you’ll be pushed to think outside the box and get comfortable laughing at yourself. What’s more, you’ll have scene partners supporting you with their own silly choices the whole way through. In fact, don’t be surprised if the talking alarm clock and alien somehow end up in the very same scene. (Yes, really)
Silence your self-doubt.
If you’ve spent any time around kids, you know that they hardly ever think twice before whatever they have to say has made it out of their mouth. For better or worse, kids don’t filter themselves. If they have something to say, they say it, committed and proud. But somewhere along the way, we start to second guess everything that runs through our minds. Will people think it’s funny? Will I sound smart? Will anyone even care?
Luckily, in improv, there’s technically no such thing as a wrong choice. If what comes out of your mouth makes no sense whatsoever, it’s still the right thing to say as long as you do so with confidence. It’s a test in believing in yourself and your scene partners and knowing that whatever comes next will be great as long as you don’t hesitate to commit to the information you’ve shared.
Tune in to the moment.
Kids live in the here and now. They don’t spend a ton of time thinking about how a play date went last week or planning where they’ll go for next year’s summer break. They’re in tune with the present and excited about what’s happening exactly where they are in that moment.
As an improviser, no matter how much you tend to live in the past or future in your day-to-day (sound familiar?)––you’re challenged to let that line of thinking go when you’re on stage. Why? Because a core tenet of improv is active listening. To successfully ‘Yes, and’ a scene partner’s choices, you have to listen, make eye contact, and stay fully present. If your mind starts to wander, you might miss critical information you need to keep the scene moving. That means your brain isn’t stuck ruminating or thinking ahead, it’s actively engaged in the present moment.
Embrace your emotions.
When kids are feeling something, you can see it all over their face. They cry when they’re sad. They cry when they’re hurt. They cry even when there’s really nothing to cry about.
And the thing is, adults do too. We just happen to be a bit quieter about it. Well, a lot quieter. We hold back our feelings to avoid being vulnerable. If we show that we’re sad, we fear looking weak. If we feel happy, we start to wonder how long it’ll last before something terrible comes along to balance things out.
Improv challenges you to get out of your emotional comfort zone. When you get up on stage, you’re taking a giant leap of vulnerability and putting trust in your scene partners to have your back as you try on disappointment, shock, joy, fear, excitement, and every emotion in between. And they’re trusting you to do the same.
And sometimes, what you might be feeling under the surface can help fuel some of your emotional choices on stage. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing––see it for what it is, an opportunity to channel your emotions into something fun and ridiculous to help work through them, rather than bottling them up.
So, whether you’re 18 or 88, there’s a whole made-up world out there waiting for you. I encourage you to keep on playing, pretending, and embracing the silly, there’s more than enough of it to go around––and your inner child will most definitely thank you for it.
Want to give improv a try? Take a peek at our event schedule to sign up for our next free workshop.
4321 Atlantic Avenue
Long Beach, CA 90807
All classes, performances and corporate workshops will be conducted virtually until further notice