"What I’ve Learned from Taking Improv Classes—An Almost-Graduate’s Tale" By Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

Sometimes in life you have to stretch yourself; photo courtesy of DCH.

Sometimes in life you have to stretch yourself; photo courtesy of DCH.

It took me two years to go to a show at Dallas Comedy House (DCH). Another two before I enrolled in improv classes. This week, nearly a year after I first walked through the doors of the DCH Training Center, I’m set to graduate from funny school. I’ll get my diploma (a diploma!) and will be officially allowed to lord my superior knowledge of comedic timing and improvisation over the heads of my unstudied peers. I’ll be able to look back over the course of my study and see how things have changed—how I have changed—along the way. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

Trust yourself. Seriously, all the gifts, all the talents, all the tools you’ll ever need lie within you. Every gift you have to give to the world is tucked away inside. It’s your job to act as excavator. But, I know this can seem daunting. We convince ourselves that what we have to offer couldn’t possibly be as good, as beneficial, as moving as what others have to offer, so why even try? But it’s in the trying that we begin to carve out our true selves. Showing up is the first thing; stepping out is the second. Trust your instincts. They usually are not wrong. (Note to self: learn to apply this to parenting!)

Become an intern. I did not intern the first three levels at DCH. I’m not sure why. Time commitment, I guess. But, it was the single-most important investment I made into building community. Before I became a night intern, I only knew my classmates, and we were having a difficult time getting the bulk of us together outside of class for hang time. Once I became an intern, I started meeting people and getting to know the roster of stellar DCH performers. I got to better know some of my classmates who interned the same night as me, and I got a better understanding of the way the club works. Not to mention, interning really broke down the intimidation factor of the theater and performing in a big way. Seeing the club before patrons arrive and after the lights come up gives it a realness and approachability that didn’t exist before.

Keep going. Listen, life is busy. Things get hard. Or boring. Or they aren’t what you imagine they’ll be. But, if you keep pushing yourself, if you keep showing up and being present, if you keep giving of yourself every class and showcase, if you keep supporting those who are traveling this journey with you, you will reap the rewards. They might not come in the form that you expect, but they may just be beyond your expectations. I’ve formed friendships with some people that I hope will continue well after graduation. I’ve been able to support new friends as they audition for roles, pursue new careers, and start new businesses. And I felt the strength of their support in my own endeavors. I’ve met people who are also pursuing this dastardly artistic life, making my own quest just a little less lonely and a little better lit, so that I fall into fewer pitfalls along the way. The encouragement is what we sensitive artists types need most of anyway.

Have fun. Sometimes it’s hard to remember the joy that brought you here in the first place. Sometimes, when we are striving to get so far out of our comfort zone, striving to meet new people and be vulnerable, striving to be something we only imagined we could be, we can get overwhelmed. Sometimes, when we’re working to remember all of the rules of improv, we forget the most fundamental rule—to have fun. This is not an option. Improv is meant to be play. You are meant to experience joy and pass the gift of joy on to others, whether they are in the audience or in the scene with you. Lighten up and enjoy your time here. Because time is the one thing we cannot change. No matter how we try, it keeps slipping away, so we might as well embrace it, take it out to dinner, get it a little drunk and laugh a little—at yourself and at others. Laughter is medicine, and who doesn’t need a little healing once in a while?

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a soon-to-be graduate of DCH’s improv program. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. Hire her—please!