January 29, 2019
The #MyWheaton blog shares first-person stories from Wheaton students and alumni.
Spreading Joy and Why It’s Worth It
Rachel Hand ’20 is a psychology major and English literature minor from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In this #MyWheaton blog post, Rachel shares her experiences as a part of the Wheaton Improv troupe “Dead Serious” and how it’s brought joy to her own life and the campus.
Every Thursday, at some point between 6 and 9:30 p.m., the same thought will inevitably pop into my head:
“What...am I doing?”
It’s usually right in the middle of a particularly outrageous scene, when we’re all a little slap happy, short on ideas, and grasping at silly straws. For just a moment, I’ll stop waddling across the stage as an evil king’s troll butler or parading about as a Canadian Mountie obsessed with maple syrup races (both real characters I’ve done), and I’ll reconsider the life choices I’ve made that got me to this point.
In these moments of clarity within the swarm of chaos that is Wheaton Improv practice, I doubt myself, wonder what the point of doing improv is, and why I do it at all.
I know the short answer, of course. I started doing improv because I wanted to get better at it. Having been a theater nerd in high school, I prided myself on knowing how to project my voice, the difference between upstage and downstage, and the ins and outs of showbiz in general. But underneath that cockiness, I had a secret shame, an achilles heel—the only type of acting that I felt I was painfully, utterly, and objectively bad at. So, after seeing a couple Wheaton Improv shows and learning about the workshops offered every semester, I decided to take the plunge and sign up for a workshop with the hopes of improving.
The longer answer (why I decided to keep doing improv) comes back to the people who I improvise with
If you’ve ever seen us onstage, you know just what a hodgepodge of crazies we are: we have hustling athletes, academic wiz-kids, music aficionados, class clowns, bookworms…it’s like The Breakfast Club, with about 35 more characters. But these crazies also have the most unfailingly open arms I’ve ever seen, the loudest laughs I’ve ever heard, and the best sense of intentional community I’ve experienced at Wheaton. And I love them for it.
But as legitimate as these reasons are, they still don’t help to quell the ever-present undercurrent of existential doubt that I feel at least once every practice. Like most (if not all) Wheaton students, I feel the need to justify my allocation of time. Your hours are stretched so thin as a student, and the pressure to spend them doing only what is most “important” is very real, at least in my experience. Thus, in these terrifying moments of self-awareness, I find myself questioning how worthwhile improv is. How can I justify spending 3+ hours a week creating scenes that are fleeting and ridiculous when I could be studying for my psychology test, writing a paper for my history class, or applying for internships back home? Aren’t there better things that I could be doing?
It just...seemed silly.
I only ever asked these questions to myself, but God heard them and, in truly improvisational spirit, answered me when I was least expecting it. It was earlier this fall; I was minding my own business as I browsed the Wheaton College Bookstore when a stranger approached me.
“Excuse me, you’re part of the Improv club, right? I love you guys, you’re great!”
Now, I don’t know about my fellow troupe members, but I hardly ever get recognized from our shows (not that I’m offended—I’m a little shy, kind of short, and blend into the background pretty well, so I’m admittedly pretty easy to miss). So hearing someone whom I had never met before say these words to me was KIND OF THE BEST THING EVER. Say what you will about fame, but right then I was feelin’ pretty good about myself.
But that feeling couldn’t hold a candle to the warmth that spread through me when she told me why she liked watching our shows. She explained that she had recently been going through a particularly dark time in her life, and had found herself struggling to feel joy. Our shows, she added as her face broke into a grin, were one of the only places where she could consistently feel the joy she had been missing and that they had helped her learn to laugh again.
I was floored. I almost started crying right there in the hoodie section of the bookstore. Granted, I cry at a good meal, but this was a revelation that I never could have foreseen. I had had no idea how my improvising had been affecting other people’s lives, and at that moment, all of my doubts were put in perspective.
Yes, we make jokes in improv. Yes, we become outrageous characters and ham it up for the audience. Yes, I devote 3+ hours of my week to practicing how to say “yes, and” and how to weave a spur-of-the-moment plot together. But those hours are not a waste of my time, because it is never a waste of time to bring joy to other people.
It is not silly to spend an hour ministering to people through laughter, nor is worthless to invest 3+ hours a week into brightening an audience’s week and helping us all take ourselves a little less seriously. Joy is desperately needed on Wheaton’s campus and I firmly believe that improv is one of the ways that God has chosen to spread it.
So if, in the next week or two, you find yourself in need of a break, a chuckle, or just some good, old-fashioned delight, I know the whole of Wheaton Improv would be more than happy to oblige you. You should come by a show sometime! We welcome anyone and everyone and are always ready to spread as much joy as can. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s what we’re here for.