By Madison McAllister and Becca Jennings
The benefits of laughter are not breaking news. Laughter has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, and stimulate the mind. So then is it any surprise that Improv, which provides abundant laughs, could actually be life changing?
From the Hospital to the Courtroom to the Newsroom and beyond, these five improvisers all claim one major, seemingly outlandish statement: Improv has changed my life.
FST Improv founding member Christine Alexander knows firsthand that laughter is the best medicine. She once hosted a laughter workshop for 12 ladies who had stage four breast cancer. “After the workshop, one of the ladies came up to me and said, ‘For that hour, I didn’t think about cancer at all.’ This stopped me in my tracks,” said Alexander.
Like Alexander, FST’s Director of Improv, Will Luera, discovered his improvisation skills can have an impact beyond the stage. Today, Luera volunteers with Healing Moments, an organization focused on working with patients of Alzheimer’s and Dementia and their care takers.
“To see how a tool like improvisation can improve communication between patients and their caretakers was incredibly moving,” said Luera. “To see how memories once lost can be re-explored by using ‘yes, and’ and, in turn, rekindle meaningful relationships made me appreciate the power of spontaneous creativity and active listening that much more.”
As host of ABC 7’s Suncoast View, Joey Panek experiences improv energy on the job every day through the magic of live TV. “One time I was doing a live shot, on location covering a red carpet for an event,” said Panek of his funniest on-screen improv moment. “The people I was supposed to interview didn’t make it to me in time, so I got the cue that I was live and I just interviewed myself!”
For Panek, the impact of his improvisational training goes beyond the job description. “Improv has changed my life by making me feel more comfortable not being in control,” continued Panek. “It has shown me that, while I may not know what may happen next, I am confident I have the ability to handle it.”
Former attorney Emily Levin has used her “improv enhanced” critical thinking and oral argument skills to help her in court. “Often while presenting a case, a judge would stop and ask questions, ask for clarification or cite opposing law,” she shared. “Improv enabled me to be totally in the moment and to respond without hesitation in a clear and concise manner.”
But for one improviser, improv didn’t just change his life. He claims it saved it.
“At one point, I was going through a divorce and was going through a deep depression,” shared Charles Gooch. “When you go through traumatic events, sometimes you take a step back and kind of find yourself secluding yourself. Improv was a way for me to get back to saying ‘yes’ to life and ‘yes’ to other people, new adventures, and new relationships.”
Today, Gooch helps inspire others through the power of Improv. As the Head of the Leadership Department at IMG Academy, the world’s largest multi-sport training and educational institution, Gooch works in the areas of leadership and character development where he draws from his improv training every day, teaching concepts that build great team cultures and build each person up individually.
“I like to say Improv is like an ATM that gives back exponentially,” Gooch concluded. “If you put in some effort, some time, some trust, and a little bit of courage. You’ll be amazed with what comes back.”
We invite you to say “yes, and” to Improv this season with FST through live performances and classes. You may be surprised what you find when you dare to dip your toe in. How might your life change with the power of Improv?