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Improbably Improvisational

November 11, 2009

When I refer to my classmates and myself as actors, I’m exaggerating. None of us had had any formal theater training, and only one of us had done improv before, and that was strictly in another classroom setting. We were just normal folks looking to reveal our inner comedian-slash-risk-taker-slash-showoff.

We were a group of about 25 lawyers, non-profit workers, civil servants, car detailers, barmaids, writers, public relations experts, grad students, stay-at-home dads, and one college professor (me), ranging in age from early 30s to late 50s, who came together for two hours each Monday night for six weeks. Before it was all over, we had at various times turned ourselves into hustlers, sports announcers, pimps, dysfunctional family members, scorned lovers, cheerleaders and other savory and unsavory characters thought up on stage and on the spot.

I enrolled for instruction by Shawn Westfall at the DC Improv’s Beginning Improvisational Comedy Class in one of those moments that seems like a split second decision until you realize you’ve been thinking about it for awhile – another one of those times when I signed up and then figured I had to show up and force myself to do something out of my comfort zone.

My thinking was partly based on the fact that I came to my profession as a college professor after a lifetime of struggle with a fear of public speaking and I had hit upon the idea of an acting class for teachers as a way to utilize theater techniques in front of the classroom. There are plenty of books and tips on public speaking but none really talks about the true performance aspect of teaching, and anything resembling instruction of college students today calls for a sophisticated execution of the material. These kids’ lives are digitally enhanced from birth and their attention lasts about as long as it takes to squeeze off a round in Call of Duty Modern Warfare II.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Black permalink
    November 12, 2009 5:58 pm

    Loved your words. I feel honored to have been in the room during your perfect comedy moment. It was a great moment! I am started the next class on the 17th.

  2. Wov permalink
    November 12, 2009 7:58 pm

    You had the unusual luck of having a very, very serious and experienced improv teacher – Westfall’s a master. FYI that in addition to the DC Improv classes, there’s also a thriving program at

  3. Julie permalink
    November 13, 2009 8:22 pm

    You tended to be one of the last, and somewhat more reluctant, class members to get on stage each week, but each week you proved to be well worth the wait. You nailed your characters, from the subtle to the sublime. I totally agree, lots of good memories of working with a ecclectic hodgepodge of DC characters. I wish I was in your class this semester!

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