musings, life lessons & poetry from Theresa Jarosz Alberti

And Now for Something Completely Different

Today I’m taking a break from the Subject of the Month to write about something new. Just shortly after My Life Changed Big-Time, I threw caution to the wind and decided to sign up for an improv class. Improv comedy has always intrigued me– I’ve gone to many performances over the years, I know a lot of people who do it, AND it scares the SH*% out of me. I’m not a person who feels comfortable doing public speaking. Even speaking one-on-one with a person who is a little bit intimidating can make my mind blank out, and I’ll have no idea what I was going to say.

I’m a writer, so communicating on paper comes completely naturally to me. The words flow, and I can free-write a la Natalie Goldberg til the cows come home (which is actually a bit improvisational, writing whatever comes to mind with no editing, and my mind and pen have no trouble with that). But I still remember the complete and utter panic I felt the night before teaching classes on National Novel Writing Month with my friend Sherri at The Loft. I knew my subject matter really well, but I was practically paralyzed and adrenalized with fear before and during the class.


I want YOU… to sign up for improv

So, when the Community Ed catalog showed up in my mail box, of course I signed up for an improv class! (Okay, logic is not always my strong suit.) Actually, I was inspired by a few things. I’ve been taking a great water aerobics class at the YWCA for a few years, and one delightfully funny woman in her 60s has told me about the improv classes she takes. She has such a joie de vivre and makes our class-time more fun with her brand of silliness. When she’d mention her improv to me, I’d be intrigued but scared out of my mind by the idea. Yet, something in me knew that it might help me with my speaking anxiety. It might help me be more comfortable in my own skin.

Then, after my husband’s crushing announcement, I needed something to grab onto. I wanted something different, something within my control to do, something life-changing in a way that *I* wanted it to be. My life was changing in ways I didn’t want it to, so this would be mine. And I also signed up just simply for the fact that it scared me so much. I have let fear rule and ruin my life for too long. I didn’t want that anymore. So, heart in hand, I signed up.

Going to the first class a few weeks ago was pretty intimidating. I had no idea what to expect, or how we’d learn improv. I was afraid of screwing up, looking foolish, being bad at it. But our young teacher was SO enthusiastic, so happy to be teaching us, and so eager to teach us some basic concepts that fear soon receded.

We played games, silly games to loosen up and warm up.   The 20 of us stood in a circle and were encouraged to jump into the center at random, do some little movement with some sound, and then everyone else would shout “Yes!” and copy the movement. Totally wacky, and soon it became easy to jump into the center because we were all “looking stupid” together. It was PLAY… in a way that grownups don’t often allow themselves to do.

It's okay to be a little corny

It’s okay to be a little corny

We were also learning about acceptance and agreement: one of the concepts in improv is to accept what your partners are doing and go with it. You might have had an idea for a different way for a scene to go, but it’s important to respond to what is actually happening, and go from there. (Hey, this sounds a lot like Divorce Lesson #1: Stay in the Present Moment!)

One of the most freeing aspects of improv for me has been learning to be okay with failure. Most of us in the class are complete beginners, and so, when playing our games, there’ll be moments where someone messes up, and I watch others expressing through their faces and body language the chagrin of failing, even at a silly task in a game. Our teacher constantly reminds us that failure doesn’t matter, it’s okay, we’re all going to mess up, and we need to let go of any emotional stigma around it. We’re here to look stupid and have fun, she tells us. We’re going to blank out. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. She’s had us play a few games that are purposely designed to get us used to failure. In one, we stand in a circle and throw an imaginary ball to someone across the room. The person receiving must not catch the ball– no matter what, it will drop to the ground. The receiver has to pick it up, and the rest of us applaud and cheer the fact that they missed it, and then they toss it to someone else who will likewise fail. It was practice, and we all got into dropping/missing the ball in creative ways. Failure became funny and acceptable.

I’m sure that a lot of people grow up with a stigma about failure or looking foolish. It’s human. I think I got a triple dose of perfectionism growing up, though, interpreting the emotional chaos in my family to mean that I needed to look, act and BE perfect to attempt to have some control over what was going on. I took my perfectionism pretty seriously. Bob reminds me that when I was finishing up my degree at St. Kate’s, I would have panic attacks about failing my classes when I was actually getting all As. In my early 20s, when I made the scandalous decision to all of a sudden move to Colorado to live with a guy, one of my cousins said, “I can’t believe Perfect Theresa is doing something like this.” I had a reputation.

So putting down my shield of perfectionism and getting permission—even encouragement—to fail is rather new for me. And freeing! Really? I can fail and everything will be okay? And I can have fun doing it? Wow.

Sure, I still squirm when we’re doing a mini-skit and my mind grasps for something to say. I wish I could be funnier, like some of my classmates naturally are. But then I try to remind myself that I’ve only been doing this for a month, and my goal is to feel more comfortable in speaking publicly, to just be able to be myself without fear. This is gonna take time, and that’s okay. I’m learning, and I’m proud of myself for doing something scary.

I’m delighted to say that I now look forward to improv class. It’s playful and silly and fun. I feel a little closer to the spontaneous and lively kid I once was. I know it will be $50 well-spent, to start walking down this road of peeling away more layers of false protection, learning to use my voice, learning there’s one thing I can never fail at:  Just Being Me.


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{Photos not credited are in the public doman.}


  1. Suzanne

    Theresa, you have already excelled in being you on paper; that’s the essence of you, and you’re wonderful. I’m so glad you’re going to let that creativity flow through your entire body now, instead of limiting it to your pen.
    Loving hugs,
    Suzanne Nezin

  2. Linda

    Way to go Theresa! Feel the fear and do it anyway. When I was in high school I took a speech class. I was terrified, but decided it was something I needed to do. One of the best things I ever did. Keep up the good work! And have fun

  3. Steffi Smith

    Improv classes were Aurora’s favorite in theater, along with dance. I’m so glad you’re allowing yourself to grow in another way. It’s so interesting to see how everything is expanding for you!

  4. Martha

    You are awesome Theresa!! Thank you for sharing so boldly. I love it!

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