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Improv: more than how to be funny

improv performers on stage

You recently read about middle-schooler Audrey’s CSz journey; this article struck a chord with me in a major way, with a few notable exceptions. At Audrey’s age, I NEVER would have been able to rock an audition; I'm still not sure I could - but I digress! Audrey has received a huge gift that will help her throughout the rest of her school years and into whatever career she may choose. I wish I had CSz at her age. I'll explain.

I was the painfully shy child in my school. Stage fright - OH YEAH!! I had it!

You may be thinking, “But, you do Improv, your stage fright couldn't have been THAT bad!”

It was that bad. Making presentations in high school, I don't think I ever made eye contact. My classmates had known me since kindergarten! I found out two weeks before graduation that I was Valedictorian; I can honestly say that if I’d had any inkling that I might be Valedictorian prior to two weeks before graduation day I would have seriously thought about sabotaging a few classes. I'm not sure my issues with failure would have let me do it, but I would have been wrestling with it! The thought of speaking in front of the faculty, 99 classmates, their friends, and family - this was my idea of cruel and unusual punishment. And college; did you realize UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science requires an undergraduate thesis and a great deal of public speaking? Had Google existed waaaay back then, I might have caught it, but yeah, I missed that fact; I don't know what I would have done had I realized. I'm glad I didn't.

So that WAS me. As an adult, I've worked hard to improve my public speaking and to get over my stage fright. Public speaking is a skill I need as a Structural Engineer and in my volunteer work with various non-profit organizations. Then I heard about Improv classes at CSz! What did I have to lose except stage fright?

Evidently, I would lose that . . . and a little more.

The first night of class, I was so excited to get started. Goodbye stage fright! But during our exercises, I made a mistake. No big deal, but the perfectionist in me reared its ugly head; so our teacher, Christine, taught us this silly dance we all were going to do when we messed up to show us mistakes don't have to be stressful and said “it's ok to make mistakes; that is how we learn!”

Whoa! A weight lifted from my shoulders! Who knew it was ok to make mistakes? Was I losing this fear as well? What else was I going to learn over this eight weeks? Now I was REALLY excited!

Halfway through the class, I went to a conference in Chicago and participated as a speaker on a panel during a break-out session. A few weeks earlier, I may have had the courage to say yes, but it would NOT have gone as well as it did. I was poised, confident, and nerves just were not there! I remember taking the microphone the first time it was my turn to speak; I had been listening intently to the other speakers and not worrying about what I would say when it came to my turn. This small shift in confidence allowed me to be ME in front of the group, instead of a bundle of nerves with no ability to listen or communicate.

I’ve given several presentations, of differing types (technical, informative, inspiring), to various audiences related to my professional and volunteer work, since being a part of CSz; while I believe there is always room for improvement, no matter what the skill, I can proudly tell you that I have finally conquered stage fright. As an added bonus, I no longer judge myself so harshly when I make mistakes.

And note, I have only scratched the surface of the benefits I have seen in my personal and professional life as a direct result of stepping outside of my comfort zone. More to come later!

Virginia Epperly has been a Minor League Player at ComedySportz® since 2015.

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