Imagine what you would do with 27 hours every day instead of the usual 24. Would you get more sleep? Play with the dog? Work overtime? Start a Tumblr? Oh, wait. I forget who’s reading this blog: you’d join another troupe or take another class at the Dallas Comedy House (DCH) or wrangle some additional stage time. Yeah, I got your number.
You can take a lesson or two from Sarah Wyatt. Six troupes, teaching in the DCH training center, coaching a Ewing team, judging auditions, and more recently tending to your food and drink needs at DCH. Hmmmm, I’m sure I’ve left out a thing or two. Oh yeah, during her off hours, she’s a substitute high school teacher with D.I.S.D. and helps produce an online comic called Cyanide & Happiness at Explosm.com.
Sarah is also why I’m here at DCH. She performed with Roadside Couch in the first improv show I ever saw. I was thrilled when fate brought us together in my Level 1 class (and later in my husband’s Level 1 class—we want to adopt her, and have discussed it with her mother, who stubbornly refuses to give up custody. Who could blame her?).
From that first night, I’ve been intensely interested in why improv is as addictive as cocaine, but without the negative social consequences. I have set out to understand why and how improv changes lives. One of the first stops on my quest was a table at the All Good Cafe with Sarah.
You wouldn't know it to see her on stage, but Sarah hasn't been doing this very long. She started classes at DCH in January 2013 at a time when she really needed a diversion.
"2012 was the worst year of my life. Something from every part of my life was not good. And I decided that I was going to do something for myself,” she said.
Her only previous experience had been a drama class in high school, which she dropped after the first day. Years later, though, something clicked.
“I always wanted to do something like this. People told me I was funny so I signed up and—legit—it was Day 1, I fell in love and have not looked back," she said. "It was the best decision I have ever made.”
Why did it affect her so profoundly, I wondered. To Sarah, the answer was immediate and simple.
“More opportunities, more friendships, more real living than anything I have ever done. . .Elsewhere we're weirdos, but not when we’re at DCH. This is the one place, out of the entire city, where it doesn’t matter. And it’s encouraged that it doesn’t matter," she said. "Life is for the living. I stretch myself so thin, but I would so much rather be up at a Jam, tired, seeing people that I love, and meeting new people and seeing improv in this community affect people, than just being at home doing nothing. Experience over anything.”
According to Sarah, the principle of "Yes, and" is a powerful force that spills off the stage and out of the classrooms to foster the sense of community DCH.
“After you learn ‘Yes, and,’ it is jarring when you go out into the real world and people say ‘no’ to you," she said.
Inside that community, she has seen improv change the people around her, like her roommate Ashley Bright, and many others who in turn pass along their love of improv to others.
“It’s a ripple effect that never ends,” she said.
Maybe it’s a bit hackneyed to say she’s a “natural” on stage, but it fits. In fact, I’d venture that in some ways, Sarah is more comfortable on stage than off. Even so, her stage work is not her favorite thing about improv. Her passion is teaching.
“It’s just instantly more engaging when you can tell that somebody is into something. I went through the five levels and was so into this, like 100 percent, sold, check please, cause I love this place," she said. "I TA’d and really enjoyed that. It helped me grow so much as a performer. I learned so much TAing that when I got the chance to teach, it was “Fuck, Yes.”
No doubt, “Fuck, Yes” is a variant of “Yes, and,” which materializes in class as boundless energy and constant support designed to build the confidence of novice and veteran improvisers. Even though I've moved on to other classes and other teachers, I still look to Sarah for guidance. An hour before my last showcase, I could not get out of my own head, so I sought her out. Her advice was unequivocal.
"Just stop it. As of right now, stop thinking. Stay in the moment. When you take the stage, keep it real, listen and stay in the here and now.”
Every word dripped: “You can do this.” Later, standing in the Green Room, laughing with my classmates, I realized that I was no longer worried or nervous. I was excited. That showcase was the most fun I have ever had at DCH.
As for Sarah, she sees no end in sight. This is her life and she loves it.
“What we have now [at DCH] is just the beginning. This is going to become a destination. DCH is going to change Dallas a little bit. Everybody who’s passionate about it thinks, 'I wish I’d been here in 2009 when this started. I wish I had found it earlier,'" she said. "But I found it when I needed to find it, when I was ready to change and be open and allow myself to be on this journey.”
Quite a journey, indeed.
Carron Armstrong is currently in Level 3 and has been obsessed with improv and DCH ever since she discovered that someone can actually take classes to learn this stuff. She is currently negotiating to purchase the naming rights for the brand new stairs added to ease access to the stages of DCH’s Main Street theaters (Thank you, Amanda and Kyle). During the day, she’s a lawyer.
(Second photo: Isabel Lopez)