Life les­sons learned in an improv class.

Stephanie Gil­man’s LOL break­through.

ELLE (Canada) - - #Storyboard - By Stephanie Gil­man

I used to day­dream about be­ing a cast mem­ber on Satur­day Night Live and be­ing BFFs with Amy Poehler, Kris­ten Wiig and Tina Fey. But there was a hitch: I’m an in­tro­vert who only en­joys mak­ing her close friends and fam­ily laugh in a pri­vate set­ting. The stage? Are you kid­ding me? As part of my #lifereboot mis­sion, I de­cided to sign up for an im­pro­vi­sa­tion pro­gram at the Sec­ond City Train­ing Cen­tre in Toronto. Go­ing into my first class, I felt ner­vous, out of my el­e­ment and fairly con­vinced that I was in way over my head. My goal was to sur­vive the un­think­able hor­ror of hav­ing to per­form, with­out a script, in front of a group of 18 strangers. Over the next eight weeks, I re­ceived 20 hours of train­ing and learned some un­ex­pected things about my­self along the way....


JUST LET GO. In improv, you never know where the scene is head­ing. You can’t mem­o­rize your lines be­cause there are no lines; ev­ery­thing is spon­ta­neous. For some­one like me, who craves con­trol and needs to pre­pare for ev­ery pos­si­ble sce­nario, the idea of think­ing on my feet is un­nat­u­ral and ter­ri­fy­ing. In one class, our in­struc­tor shouted out a letter—like “P”—and then pointed to an ob­ject in the room and asked us what it was. You couldn’t say what it ac­tu­ally was; you had to call it some­thing that started with the letter P. When she pointed to a hanger, for ex­am­ple, I yelled “Poo!”—not the most elo­quent choice, but this ex­er­cise was about learn­ing to be men­tally ag­ile and open. For me, be­ing able to do that with­out mak­ing a com­plete fool of my­self was a ma­jor break­through.

THE MAGIC WORD IS YES. One of the main tenets of improv is to say “yes” to what­ever sug­ges­tion is thrown at you, no mat­ter how ridicu­lous it might be. If some­one in a scene were to say “Let’s go to the moon!” I’d re­ply with “Yes, and we can take my un­cle’s space­ship!”—which is a valid and log­i­cal re­sponse in the improv world. I learned that by say­ing “no,” you in­stantly kill the scene and shut down your fel­low im­pro­viser’s idea. And that’s not re­ally fun for any­one—in com­edy or in life. The ba­sic prin­ci­ple of say­ing “yes” h

and be­ing agree­able is so sim­ple at its core, yet it has the po­ten­tial to be a com­plete life changer. I think about all the times I have said “No, I can’t...” and shut down ideas and op­por­tu­ni­ties in­stead of em­brac­ing them and en­ter­tain­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ties. If we all started say­ing “yes” just a lit­tle bit more, we might be tak­ing a trip to the moon in my un­cle’s space­ship.

BE SILLY. Who knew laugh­ing could be so ex­haust­ing? In one class, we were put into pairs; one per­son had to con­vey an emo­tion while speak­ing gib­ber­ish, and the other had to mimic that per­son’s sounds and ac­tions. I re­mem­ber my part­ner scream­ing an­grily at me in a di­alect that sounded like an Ital­ian/He­brew cross­over while I screamed back at him, tears stream­ing down my face as I erupted into a fit of gig­gles. I of­ten left the class feel­ing ex­tremely giddy. Like most adults, I had for­got­ten what it’s like to “play.” And I know it’s a cliché, but improv re­minded me that laugh­ter re­ally is the best medicine.

STOP OB­SESS­ING ABOUT WHAT OTH­ERS MAY THINK. Like many peo­ple, I spend too much time wor­ry­ing about how I’m be­ing per­ceived, but improv taught me how to shut down my in­ner critic. It gave me the con­fi­dence to be spon­ta­neous—and feel se­cure about mak­ing a snap de­ci­sion to be an el­derly lion tamer or a fast-talk­ing car sales­man (some of my finest improv mo­ments). In improv, there is no “right way” or “wrong way.” Any­thing you say is sup­ported by your peers, and, in turn, you of­fer that sup­port right back to them. It’s just a group of peo­ple work­ing to­gether and cheer­ing one another on. Imag­ine if the world ac­tu­ally worked that way.

TRY SOME­THING NEW. Walk­ing along the edge of the CN Tower (the sub­ject of my Oc­to­ber 2014 col­umn) pushed me beyond my com­fort zone, but improv was like walk­ing the tower with­out a tether and wear­ing a blind­fold. I know I would never have tried it if I weren’t writ­ing this col­umn. And that would have been a pity. I’m now say­ing “yes” when I might have said “no,” and I’m also more con­fi­dent in ex­press­ing my con­vic­tions. In fact, I’m so hooked on improv that I’ve signed up for another ses­sion. It’s easy to get stuck in a rou­tine or come up with ex­cuses—“I don’t have time, I’m too scared, I might fail, I don’t know how”—for not try­ing some­thing new. But I’m your proof that you can do it, and you might even—un­ex­pect­edly—en­joy your­self. Some­times, you should just say “yes.” ■

CHAL­LENGE #6 Next month, I’ll ex­plore how hav­ing can­cer—and los­ing my breasts—has shaped how I view my fem­i­nin­ity. Time to em­bark on some ma­jor self-re­flec­tion.

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