One year in Chicago.

Today is my one year anniversary living in Chicago. It’s also my last 5B show at iO which is crazy weird that they are both happening on the same day. I’ve graduated iO. It’s a great anniversary gift.
  For the last week, I’ve been trying to think of something profound to say about how much I’ve grown, how hard it’s been, and how much I miss Arizona but love Chicago. I’ve had trouble trying to find the right words. 
How do you summarize a year of your life? A year that challenged you. A year that forced you out of your comfort zone. A year that made you become a badass woman with a sword (thank you Jana). 
You can’t. I look back at pictures and stories and think wow I did that? And it’s unreal and unpredictable, my life. I think of all the new people I met, and how crazy it is that a year ago I didn’t know them. I also wonder how I made it through winter. 
I do miss Arizona especially when it’s -30, but I miss my family and friends everyday. I wish I could drive to see them when I need a hug or some good Mexican food. I wish I could go to the Torch and dance in the hallways. But I’m also super happy of their support. 
Thank you to my family. Thank you to Katie who has been so patient and kind. Lauren who understood why we can’t and has been simply the best. Thank you to my new friends and the improv community who have helped make Chicago feel like home.
Here’s to another year of what’s to come in Sweet Home Chicago.

  

How Improv Saved Me

Three years ago, I was formally introduced to the art of improv. I say formally because I had dabbled in it as a teen, and was exposed to it throughout the years. However we were formally introduced in August of 2011.

2011 was the hardest year of my life. I finished grad school by the skin of my teeth, I had gotten out of a bad relationship (and replaced it with another), and my dog, grandfather, and uncle passed away within 5 months of each other. It was very hard to be around myself. I tried to escape with partying and jetting off to Portugal, but I could never run fast enough. Soon, I was back home sitting on my staircase wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  And wondering how I could escape.

Within two weeks of that moment, I had a job doing what I went to school for and doing what was expected of me. As I was fitting in at my new job, my uncle passed away. Although expected, there was always a hope that maybe the cancer would disappear. Maybe then this pain would too. When it didn’t, I felt a part of me was dying as I was “living.”

A few days after my uncle’s funeral, a slightly bearded man named Jose came to my work to do a team building workshop with a focus on improv. I played it off as nothing during the workshop, but inside I felt a burst of happiness I hadn’t felt in I don’t know how long. I was timid and a bit reserved during the workshop, but a part of me knew I wanted to do more of this.

I convinced a friend of mine to come to Jose’s theater, The Torch Theatre, for a free class. It was me, her, and this guy in the class. I was really bad and wondered why did I waste this Wednesday night? Feeling down about the class, I didn’t go back the next month. 

On November 11, 2011, my nephew Luke was born. On that day he was, and still is, perfect. Here was this beautiful life I was holding. So innocent. He didn’t know how bad the world could be, or cared how sad I was. He was happy just resting in my arms. As I held them, I decided that 2012 was going to be my year of growth and change. I wanted to be better for him.

A week before my birthday (November 18), I wrote down new things I wanted to try in 2012. On that list was improv. In December of 2011, I went to the next free class. I was still was bad, but with Level 1 starting soon (and on sale) I decided to give it a go. One class session wasn’t going to hurt. What was the worst that was going to happen?

The first class session was hard for me. I was scared a lot of the time, and people kind of scared me as I had personal space and intimacy issues. I didn’t like people getting too close or touching my face as they would know who I really was and would feel my imperfections. I would like to think I hid it well, but I don’t think I did. I would often go home from class feeling bad, but as the weeks went by and the classes progressed, I started to feel a little less bad about improv and myself.

 It would take months and months of classes and shows to break down walls, but once they did, I started to enjoy the art more, and being around myself. One big breakthrough was when a fellow classmate, and now great friend Andrew, literally touch my face during a scene. He didn’t know about my issues, and I don’t think would have cared. He showed me that I was alright and I can be myself. I was okay.

As I started to attend more shows and perform more, I started to feel comfortable in my own skin, onstage and off. I discovered new things about myself, and didn’t feel scared to express and show them. As a result, improv has allowed me to travel more, have closer relationships with my family and friends, and find happiness that I could create. I started to enjoy being around myself more, and enjoying my imperfections. I’ve also liked to think I’ve gotten better at improv.

Improv saved me. It wasn’t therapy, but it allowed me to express emotions and feelings I would have kept hidden from the world. I’ve met some of the greatest friends and family from improv. It also gave me strength to move from the tiny pond I love of Phoenix, Arizona to the massive lake of Chicago to study this art. Without improv, I don’t where or who I would be.

Probably still on that staircase.

May regret posting this, but I found the video from that workshop because Google. I also have bangs. Enjoy?

 

Oh Chicago

My bags are not packed and I am not ready to go.

Who knew I would fall in love with a city so quickly like I have Chicago? I came here on an adventure to learn more about improv and spend time with my family. I’ve done this before and while I cried, it never felt I guess painful to leave.

This summer has changed me for the better. I am more confident in me. I love more of me. I love the people. From improv classes and shows to meeting new people to becoming closer with family and friends, each played a roll in the person I am. The person the city made me a better person.

It hurts to leave so quickly after I got adjusted, but with anything, there is a reason. What that is, I soon will find.

Thank you to all that supported me here or a far. I still have to pack and catch a flight.

Continue to have fun and love life. I’ll see you when I see you.

Rainbow Connection

Repost from my blog entry on http://www.thetorchtheatre.com/rainbow-connection/

What is amazing about improv is that it brings people together from all walks of life. You meet people that you may not have met otherwise. It is these creatures and their other interests that help connect you. It is what helps you discover new characters on stage, as well as yourself, that you didn’t think you had in you.

For me, improv has helped me become a better marathon runner. I know it sounds like that those two don’t go together, but for me it does. I started running seriously around the same time I started improv in 2012. Towards the end of 2011, which was the worst year for me emotionally, I decided I needed to change. Some might describe it as a quarter life crisis and others depression, but the channel needed to be changed as I was unhappy with where the story of my life was going. I decided to try new things in the new year, two of which were running and improv.

Running long distances is probably the worst/best time for me. I curse myself as I run, but crave it most of all. This last weekend, my cousin Lindsey and I did the Graffiti Run, a fun & colorful 5k. While Lindsey doesn’t run, it was one of the most fun things we have done together in Chicago and just life in general. It allowed us to bond, get dirty, and have fun.

It is the same bond, dirtiness, and fun that I love about improv. And while different in many ways, running and improv have taught me three thing:.

Stay Committed – Let me not be the first to say waking up at 5am sucks, especially when you stayed up late the night before watching Scandal. However, running events start early in the morning most of the time. Your body has to be ready, awake, and in the moment with the race or you will injure yourself. While most improvisors are not up that early, it is the same mentality that you bring to your craft and a show. While we make up most of what we do, if we stop listening or we don’t react, we lose the scene. If we don’t work on our improv muscles and strive for better work, we become like stale bread.

Be true to yourself (or your character) – Unless you are Barney from How I Met Your Mother, you cannot just get up and run a marathon. Your body knows you are lying and will punish you for it. In improv, if you commit to being a crazy French maid don’t then deny ever being one on stage. You take yourself and the audience out of this reality.

Wear sensible shoes as heels and flip flops will prevent you from going the distances – A better title for this should be don’t limit yourself and don’t wear clothing that will hinder what you will do. Sure, I can run in 6 inch heels … not far, but I can. And sure, I can wear a gorgeous ball gown on stage. However, you will then have players like Andrew Bernier folding you in half like a pretzel on stage.

The point of this fashion rant is to say don’t limit yourself. With improv and running, it is going to take you out of your comfort zone — let it. It is alright to be characters you love and characters you cannot stand in real life. In some way or fashion, you can find an element of yourself you maybe didn’t know was there.

You also get to learn more about others in this limitless world. In the past month-ish, my Level One teacher Matt Higbee has asked us to bring a new object each week that represents us as individuals. We then put them in a trash bag and pull out something new that represents other people in the class and get to learn about them. In this exchange, I have gotten the book Good Omens, a Southwest traveling magazine, and the horrific movie The Little Black Book. It is different and fun to learn about the other characters in my class. It is also fun having them learn about my character through the book Man Up, Women’s Running Magazine, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (my Mexican and Jewish family in a nutshell; also, why I need to run as we LOVE to eat).

I enjoy my weird and fun rainbow connection of the two and am forever grateful for these two activities. They helped me get out of a dark place, and pushed me to Chicago.

Yes, Improv, and the Blackhawks: My first week in a new city.

Repost from my blog entry on http://www.thetorchtheatre.com/the-debut-of-the-big-yes-and-maria-in-chicago/

January 4, 2012.

This date is important to me because it was my first official class at The Torch Theatre. It was when this love and obsession for improv began and where it’s only gotten bigger.

My very first class I was nervous. I didn’t want anyone to invade my bubble space of three feet around me, and I wondered to myself, “What am I doing here?” By 9:30pm that night, I knew the answer exactly. What do you mean I get to play like a kid for 3 hours? I am in. The personal space issue took a few months to get over but now I cuddle my fellow players just to say hi.

This experience was extremely different than June 24, 2013, my first class at iO Chicago.

I decided last November that I wanted to take classes at iO Chicago. Not sure how I was going to do it. But all I knew is that I had to get to Chicago and be at iO. After arranging it with my job and cutting down on buying shoes, I was off to Chicago for the summer to do this crazy thing we call improv.

So here I was standing in front of what I had been working towards. Rain poured over me since I had forgotten my umbrella and I was surrounded by Blackhawks fans. It was the 6th game of the NHL Finals, and I was in the middle of it. I decided to be a bandwagon fan because, hey, wouldn’t it be cool?

I stepped into the theater of 18 students, into silence. No one really knew each other and we were all avoiding that awkward “Ummm, hi” moment. This is different from Phoenix because I know everyone and everyone knows me. Who am I going to cuddle with now?

I sat down right in front of the iO’s Cabaret stage. Holy Conley, Batman … I am here.

After taking the moment in, our teacher Matt, or Higbee, stepped on the stage to introduce himself. He is awesomely awkward with a potty mouth I adore. He then had us step on stage to hold hands and make eye contact with one another. It was a weird growing moment for me. 18 months ago, I would have ran for the hills if I had to be this close with strangers. This time, I was fine because of my lessons from The Torch but I could tell others were like me, then and now.

Higbee then said what happens in this class is like Vegas – it stays within these walls. No judgment. Nothing you do is wrong except not reacting. It reminded me of something Bill Binder would say, except as Christopher Walken. I felt at home immediately. I later found out that Higbee knows and has performed with some of my favs and teachers at The Torch Theatre. I now felt really at home.

Towards the end of a great class of newbies and seasoned performers, there was a loud eruption. Did we have that great of a class? Sure, but the ‘Hawks had also won the Stanley Cup! As a class, we emptied out into the streets to join the celebration.

In all the chaos, I had lost some of my new classmates but it didn’t matter. I was taking in the moment of a city celebrating. Ironically, I ran into a one Miss Kate Anderson, a great gal, Chicago newbie, and Torch performer.

My night of linking the new and the not-so-new was complete. As smoke and sirens filled Clark Street, I felt I had made the right decision to come to Chicago for the summer for improv.

I am not sure what will happen or what I will learn from Level 1, Level 2, and musical improv. But I said Yes to this adventure, and here I am.

Play Well With Others

Repost from my blog entry on http://www.thetorchtheatre.com/playing_well/

One of the core values of improv is trust. Trusting that your group will think your ideas are brilliant. Trusting that your group has brilliant ideas. And trusting that your ideas are brilliant. And, yes, I am a giant giraffe and you are my monkey sidekick, Bobby.

At The Torch, you are given more opportunities to play and develop that trust with your fellow performers. You are also given more time to understand that you are right in whatever you do. This is 180 degrees from what we are told as adults; that you are not always right and to stop making random farting sounds even if the scene calls for it.

In time, you start making friends at The Torch. You may even join a few groups (Hello, Adult Bakery) and become a part of the family. We do this in Phoenix mostly for the love of the craft, and for the chance to be a Russian monkey spy on stage.

Like any kid, you leave the nest for college, for backpacking across Europe, or for a sweet Taco Bell job. You realize you are no longer home and your mom is not cooking for you. Coming to Chicago is like that for me. While in Phoenix, I have to explain that longform improv is kind of like Whose Line, but not. In Chicago, more people know what I am talking about because you can throw a rock and hit an improv theatre. (Please don’t throw rocks.)

This means there are a lot more stages to perform on but with it A LOT more performers. The time I had to develop in Phoenix is not something I am rewarded here as I have less chances to perform but more chances to meet people who may share this love. As a result, I am given less time to build trust if I really want to take in the experience.

My third day here, I went to an improv jam at The Playground which is like the Bingo Jams we have at The Torch. I always get nervous before performing even at jams, but this was a “you are no longer in Kansas” moment. No tornado was going to take me away unless someone called for it. I am not going to lie; I did feel homesick in that moment. What if no one trusted me or I didn’t trust myself?

I got over it quickly the minute I got on stage and my improv instinct kicked in. Our adult instinct is that someone has to earn my trust before they can drive my car. Improv instinct has them drive our car, crash it, and then we steal their turtle…mom. I stole the turtle. It was hard and a bit nerve racking but anything that makes you feel alive like improv does, is worth it.

In my classes since, there is still a slight battle of trust and learning to play well with others. I sometimes want to fall back on old habits and doubt my ideas, but that would be the adult thing to do — boring. I will always feel nervous, but stepping out of our comfort zone is what we do as performers and we are allowed to.

Let’s go steal some turtles.

#plork