How To Reinvent Yourself Through Improv

By Kelly Davis

Name: Vanessa Anton
Course: Improv 101

Vanessa Anton’s got some serious improv bona fides. She’s trained with Upright Citizens Brigade Los Angeles, Pack Theatre (also in L.A.) and Chicago’s Annoyance Theatre, whose alums include Jill Soloway, Aidy Bryant and Stephen Colbert. She’s taught and performed locally (Finest City Improv) as well as overseas in places like London.

Improv, Anton says, brought joy back into her life after a divorce and has helped reshape how she views the world. And though folks often consider improv to be mostly lighthearted fare, Anton’s found that it’s also therapeutic and a vehicle for self-discovery. “It is very powerful to watch a student work past their own roadblocks to allow themselves to connect with someone and let themselves be seen,” she says.

How’d you get your start in improv?
I went through a divorce and wanted to reinvent myself. I had been a theater kid from childhood through college, and had lost this part of myself as an adult. I also really needed the joy. So I signed up for improv and it was the most I’d ever laughed with strangers. I had found joy again. And I haven't stopped since.

What do you most enjoy about it?
While improv is very much about fun, trust and team building, there is a huge element of self discovery. This is the part I really geek out about. It is very powerful to watch a student work past their own roadblocks to allow themselves to connect with someone and let themselves be seen. The most beautiful bonds are formed out of these connections.

I also love the wonderful network of friends I have made around the U.S. and the world through improv. Most of my travels are improv-related, whether to take classes or go to festivals. I’ve gone as far as Dublin to perform in a festival and, in spring of 2018, I played with a group in London. And I have a long list of places yet to visit. There are people doing improv all over the world. It’s quite amazing!

Improv has helped to shift my thinking about what constitutes a “normal” life. I’ve learned to let go of what I should be doing and have been more open and accepting to what happens when you stop trying too hard. It’s the kind of thing we teach in scene work. It’s not always easy, but when I really apply it, amazing things happen.

What advice would you give someone wanting to give improv a try?
Just do it! It will change your life. But be very kind to yourself in the process, as it may bring to light any insecurities that you’ve been dealing with. The best part is facing them head-on with laughter and support.

Who takes your class? Is it just for folks hoping to improve their improv skills? 
Classes are very diverse. Students range from college age to retirees. Some are new to San Diego, from places like Brazil or Iran. Some have been living here for years. There are students that enjoy taking improv again and again because it makes them leave the day behind and enjoy the present moment. There are students that are interested in making friends and getting out of their comfort zones. Some students have tried acting and want to improve their performance by playing with characters and letting go of worrying about a script. There are also students that simply want to become more confident in interacting socially. Improv helps with all of this and more!

What do you like most about teaching at Extension?
I love the diversity in the classes. It’s incredibly enjoyable to see how much common ground we all have with each other no matter the background. I also enjoy the support from Extension to be able to create a curriculum that suits the needs of each group. I feel very lucky to be able to do this.

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