I’m so nervous.
It’s my first Student Lottery. The lights come up after our suggestion of Popsicle; I hesitate. My mind is a complete blank for any initiation ideas. I freeze. I have nothing to offer.
Do you remember your middle school cafeteria?
Lunch in hand, I stand for a moment looking out across the tables. This moment may last seconds, but it feels like eternity. Why does it feel so awkward to look out across a room and find a place to sit?
I hope friends have saved me a seat. Or, I hope a seat I choose will welcome me among others at the table (as opposed to the all too familiar Forrest Gump line, “seat’s taken”). I hope there’s a table out there that wants me to sit with them.
Dallas Comedy House is on its tenth year and thriving. One only needs to walk the halls to witness the exponential growth of incoming students with each passing year: Ewing and Walker troupe history is being made; the Dallas Comedy Festival is one of a kind; the stories that circulate the community speak of family and home, a welcoming space with both the safety to make mistakes and the bravery to try something uncomfortable and new.
What started as a desire to create a space to host and perform shows has led to a community that teaches and empowers the curious and creative in the art of improv, sketch, stand-up, and storytelling.
Because the emphasis and focus is put on what is best for the students and the community, not what’s best for any particular headliner, the DCH community models a welcoming environment. The focus is not on the small select few, but on the learners. Each decision made prioritizes this wide open space of invitation, and the welcome is felt from the handshakes to the hallways, from the classroom to the stage. Not only are the learners and students emphasized and nurtured in this context, but there are numerous entry points for them to perform and progress. From the Jam to the Lottery to Open Mic, Pipeline, and Block Party, from workshops to classes to programming five nights a week, the entire community of DCH is a place built in the spirit of creating a welcoming space.
Back on the Lottery stage, before I can freeze for too long, a hand grabs my arm and pulls me out on stage. They initiate, another joins, I’m invited into the action as we begin to create with yes, and.
(At this point) I’m only in Level 2 but here, in the company from players from other levels and two veterans, we’re all supporting each other. Even though I’m new and inexperienced, my presence and contribution is invited and welcomed.
The community at DCH chooses to create this space of hospitality and invitation again and again. While it may be harder in practice than in theory, it remains rewarding and magnificent, not in spite of the chaos and messiness but in the midst of it.
Before you ask, I’ll answer: Yes, some performers are better than others, as with any area of expertise. But one veteran beautifully commits to this value of prioritizing welcome: “I want to play with the person who wants to play with the person who is not as good.”
It is a choice to create such welcome, it is not automatic. DCH chooses it every step of the way; being welcoming is a value that defines who they (we) are. As it creates a space where an individual can lean into their creating, innovating, yes-saying selves - it also creates a community that intentionally welcomes each other, and thrives on the willing and celebrated contribution of each of its members. It is a value more spaces in our culture could benefit from: investing in people and character over profit and celebrating ‘best-ness’. By modeling these values, DCH shapes those who walk through their doors: we are welcomed and becoming welcoming based not on certain status, but based on our shared humanity.
Evey McKellar is a Level 4 Improv student, a writer and UMC clergy. She works for a nonprofit, lives in Dallas, and loves Cane Rosso.