The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. — Tina Fey
I have finally said say yes to a dream I’ve had for a long time but never had the courage to follow through on, until now.
I took my first improvisational class at Second City last week… and it was everything I wanted and more.
I’ve wanted to take a Second City class ever since I moved to Chicago four years ago.
At first, I didn’t sign up because I just didn’t have the money to pay for classes. I was working part-time while my then-fiance Dallas started his first year of medical school, and we were barely making rent and paying for groceries.
Yet as I progressed professionally and salary-wise, money wasn’t the issue. It was my confidence and my passion for this path… both of which I felt I had lost years ago.
Theater and acting were a passion of mine growing up.
There was a children’s theater across the street from my neighborhood. I was in middle school when I acted in my first play there, The Desk Set. Shy at first, I soon came out of my shell with each play I participated in.
The high school I went to had award-winning Fine Arts and Television programs — the Poplar Pike Playhouse and Germantown High School Television. My freshman year, I was so eager to audition for plays and attend theater conferences… certain I’d soon be on the PPP’s main stage, performing my heart out.
That wasn’t exactly the case. I was cast in ensemble and chorus parts, but never made it further than that. I understand of course that in high school (and well, life), you’re not going to get everything. So I tried to learn from my mistakes, build my confidence and improve my skills for upcoming auditions.
But high school can be a shitty time, especially when you’re trying to feel good about yourself. For me, I was extremely bullied and that constantly broke me down. I don’t want to make that the focus by any means, but it happened and it probably affected me more than I realized at the time.
One of the worst ways I was bullied was because I was Middle Eastern… 9/11 was pretty fresh in people’s minds, and it brought a lot of negativity and nastiness my way. I remember being told I didn’t look the part for certain roles, no one would want to see someone like me on stage.
I felt like a complete failure and was ready to just opt out of Production entirely when one of my Theater teachers asked me to come into her office to discuss a class assignment. Everyone in class had to write one scene that would be combined into a big play we’d perform for friends and family.
I didn’t write a scene. I wrote scenes — a mini play of its own.
My teacher asked me why I had written so freaking much. Embarrassed, I told her I completely misunderstood the assignment, thinking I was supposed to write a whole story, not a small part of one.
She was shocked, but elated, that I had taken this assignment so seriously and turned it into something of my own. We decided to use my scenes throughout the main play, altering my final act a bit to be mixed with other classmate’s characters/stories for a grand finale.
I remember going home and telling my parents how happy I was… that I had found a way to be good at Theater… and that it was through writing, not acting or being on stage.
Its tough writing about this now, because this is where I realize I turned away from performing completely.
This isn’t to say I do not love writing. I do. I’ve made a life and career out of it.
But there has always been a part of me that yearns to act and tell stories on a stage, to sing and dance, to entertain… to present creativity to an audience and experience their reactions in real time.
Unfortunately, I made a premature decision in my teenage years to not pursue theater or acting anymore. I felt so much negativity and hardship and criticism coming from that path that it broke my heart… and like any bad breakup, I just wanted to eat a ton of ice cream and be done with it.
As I moved more into writing, I discovered how much I enjoyed working with our television department. I found a new passion with reporting and journalism, using my creative methods of storytelling to create impactful news segments or shows.
I quickly rose in this area, winning local awards for school reports that would air on Memphis’ WMC-TV station. I participated in student-run newscasts; the photo above is from when I was the Gubernatorial Anchor for our Election Night 2006 show.
My senior year, I won a National Student Television Award for Excellence from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for a documentary I worked on with my father, covering the September 11th terrorist attacks. My father survived the attacks along with many of his colleagues and coworkers, and the documentary covered their experiences on that fateful day. Winning this award and accepting it in New York City with my father watching on is still one of the proudest moments of my life.
I’d continue on this path through college, attending the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism… then working as a reporter and editor for various outlets after graduation.
Fast-forward to present day.
I’m a writer and journalist in Chicago. Over the years, I’ve worked with some incredible people, covering amazing stories… and I have loved it all.
But lately, something just hasn’t been clicking.
It struck me the worst when I got back from my honeymoon this summer. Despite having had an amazing wedding and my first true vacation with Dallas, I was severely depressed.
It had nothing to do with the wedding, with Dallas, with friends or family… it was all on me. I was looking for some kind of fulfillment that didn’t come from a relationship or loved ones or even my current work.
I was comparing myself with other people and their careers, their paths, what they were doing to feel fulfilled and realized I wasn’t doing enough for myself. Deep down, I’ve known what some of those fulfilling things would be and I have been terrified of them.
WHY? Because I’m terrified to fail at them.
Recently, I decided that’s enough. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t sit here wallowing in misery when there are things I know will make me feel better.
One of those things? Taking a huge leap and signing up for Improv at Second City.
I’ve always wanted to get back into acting, somehow, someway… and ever since high school and those adolescent times of self-doubt, I felt stupid or silly or lame for trying.
I’m taking these classes. I’m diving in. I am ready. And improv was the perfect way to do that, because at its core, its about love, being open and accepting anything that comes your way.
During my first class, we sat in a circle and shared a little about ourselves and why we wanted to take this class.
It was so refreshing and beautiful to hear how so many others were wanting to express themselves better, wanted to try something new, wanted to explore a dream, a goal.
We instantly bonded, laughing and yelling and playing games like children (which is what improv should be).
The text below is what I sent to my husband just halfway through the class.
I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get here, but maybe that’s why I will enjoy it even more.
I’ll end this with a huge, HUGE ask of anyone reading this who has ever doubted themselves… who is wondering if they should do something… if they should take that leap.
DO IT. Please don’t hesitate anymore. Don’t wait any longer.
I can’t believe it took me this long to leap myself, but I am so happy I finally did. I hope that you leap sooner than I did, because it’ll bring you that much closer to feeling good about yourself.
Something helpful to get you there? Don’t worry about failing. Just don’t. Its the worst damn thing we do to ourselves. We’ll have a goal and our mind finds a way to tell us we can’t possibly be good at it. Tell your mind to fuck off, and let your heart lead.
I love that there is no failure with improv. “THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities,” as Tina Fey says.
I have absolutely no idea what is going to happen with these classes OR the path they will present to me… but I can tell its going to be a whole lot of “YES.”