Improv is like playtime for adults.
And that laughter and lightheartedness is good for many things, including helping to relieve anxiety, which many of us have more than our fair share of this year.
It’s Thursday night in a classroom at Westside Community Center. Five brave-hearted, open-minded men and women, guided by their spunky leader, Meggan Hyde, are acting out giving each other imaginary plates of spaghetti, while also hurling imaginary knives. Chaos ensues. But so do giggles and, maybe more importantly, a complete rootedness in the moment. After all, your mind can’t dally in the past or future when you’re busy intercepting flying daggers and plates of pasta in the present.
“Improv is where we hone that skill of living in the moment,” says Hyde, an actor who’s also a member of the longtime Colorado Springs improv comedy troupe Stick Horses in Pants. “It’s learning how to live in this moment where all the beautiful things are happening. Let go of the stuff that has already happened because you can’t change it, let go of the stuff in the future because you don’t know what will happen. The only way to affect the future is to take action in this moment.”
The group is here for Hyde’s weekly Intro to Improv class hosted by Funky Little Theater Company, where they willingly play silly games with each other and risk looking foolish for a couple of hours. The peels of laughter make you forget the harsh fluorescent lighting, scattered kids toys and art projects taped to the walls. There is pure joy, mingled with a sloughing off of stress and worry.
“If you make a mistake, let it go,” Hyde tells the group. “Nobody’s going to nail you to the wall.”
And also, if you’re worried about being funny, there’s no need to pressure yourself. It’s bound to happen inadvertently.
“Improv is not about being funny,” she says. “It’s about being present and collaborating. Each person brings their unique mind to the moment. Funny things always happen.”
It’s hard to not laugh during Thursday’s improv games, such as the sword-fighting duel, where one person must die, and they must do it with as much gusto as possible.
“If you want to do some sort of pre-death confession, that’s always fun,” Hyde tells the partners.
With blood pumping and endorphins flowing, performers move into a few rounds of conjuring up fortune cookie sayings. Moving around the circle, each performer says one word until one person decides the fortune feels complete and says, “Yes, yes, yes, yes.” Thursday night’s crowd came up with: “Children. Are. Disgusting. Yes, yes, yes, yes.”
Hyde’s No. 1 improv rule? “Be kind.” Followed closely by: “Mistakes are fun opportunities and the new reality.”
The overarching rule of improv, though, is saying “Yes, and” to whatever happens. If one performer comes up with an idea and their partner goes in another direction, it’s like saying their idea is better. That’s a no-no. This is a world where everybody says yes to your ideas and agrees to make the same mistakes you make. If you trip in a hole, they trip in the same imaginary hole. If you get a wild-haired idea, your fellow performers tag along for the ride.
“Improv is a supportive environment,” says Hyde. “Whatever choice somebody makes, we agree that’s the reality. Mistakes are not a thing. It’s a great place to take risks.”
In addition to regular improv classes, Hyde also leads Improv for Anxiety classes, specifically for those who need an extra gentle approach. She focuses on group activities, rather than having people perform on the spot, and never forces anybody to play games. Opting out entirely is always an option.
The $10 classes happen monthly, but are canceled through December due to the pandemic.
Josh Neal brings his 14-year-old daughter to Hyde’s Improv for Anxiety classes to work on her social and performance anxiety. It’s helping, he says. She’s more willing and eager to venture out of her comfort zone.
“And to speak off the cuff in front of other people instead of having prepared words,” says Neal, who has performed with Funky Little Theater and also attends improv classes. “Making something up on the spot can be stressful, but she’s gotten more courageous and confident.”
Improv might seem counterintuitive for an anxious person. Hyde gets that, but believes the comedic sport can strengthen creativity and build confidence.
“This is a really supportive place, a safe place to face those fears,” she says. “Because of the no-failure thing, a lot of people find themselves doing more than they expect they would.”
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