I am often asked what do you love about improv? I have always answered “I get to be someone other than Karla” and that’s been my consistent answer for as long as I can remember. As online improv has flourished, my need to not be Karla has intensified.
Let me explain, I began performing when I was very young and the escapism of theater was a huge draw for me. At age 9, I could play Sophie Tucker, a Russian born singer and self proclaimed “red hot mama” complete with a boa and a song to belt out. Karla could disappear for 3 minutes with lyrics like “Some of these days, You’ll miss your honey, Some of these days, You’ll feel so lonely. And when you leave me. I know you’ll grieve me, Some of these days.” And even at that tender age, I understood loneliness. I tapped into the insecurities of a pre-teen surrounded by prettier, thinner and often more talented performers. I know now that looking back, I was able to possess a vulnerability that audiences responded to with applause. And WOW! That feeling is addicting so I pushed to do more. What I discovered was that even when Karla doesn’t shine, the characters I played did.
I dove into character work playing angry orphans, over feed pink ladies and even a nagging and controlling Jewish mother in the 50's. I fell in love with the moments on stage where I was not the awkward overweight teenager that was always going to be the best friend and never the love interest. The stage was my addiction and I continued feeding that through college until my insecurities got the best of me. At University, there were 20+ other girls just like me. I wasn’t special, I wasn’t a stand out. I was one of many just like Karla is in real life and it took a blow to my every growing ego. But instead of pushing forward with something I loved, I chickened out. I switched to a scriptwriting major and began writing roles that I knew I’d never be cast for. I shut down the part of me that needed to shine.
That piece remained tightly locked until I turned 40 and stopped finding any joy in myself. The self hatred I had was all consuming and I knew I had to find an outlet. On a cruise ship that year, I saw a performance from the Second City Tour Co and a spark ignited. 12 years later, that spark burns brighter than ever but the secondary flame of self worth sits beside it during every class or performance. In my whole life, I never felt beautiful or worthwhile, but I always knew I could entertain people. Then in 2020, the audience approval went away. I could no longer hear the applause or the groans or just feel the energy of a room. I began to doubt myself even more but I knew I needed to take advantage or learning from and playing with brilliant improvisers and instructors from around the world. And that’s what I did.
For the first couple of months, I committed to 20+ workshops and classes from LA, to London, to Minnesota, to NY and beyond. I have never felt more out of my league in my life. WOAH! The talent throughout the improv world is immense. I had instructors that coached me into an improv coma of inadequacy. But I had paid for these classes, so I continued on. Looking back, I have never been so challenged and pushed as a performer and I am forever grateful. But Karla began to feel beaten down and wanted to disappear again. Karla needed to be someone else and it didn’t feel like the online improv world was going to allow for that to happen. How do you disappear in a 16 x 9 window?
And then, I took a “playdate” through Vintage Improv taught by an unbelievable Instuctor. It was called “Let’s Get Playful” and that’s exactly what we did. Stephanie empowered us to use props, costumes, wigs and more. I was very hesitant but wanted to impress Stephanie so I jumped in with as much vigor as I could. As we were playing, I grabbed a coat and a hat from my closet. When I put them on and turned on my camera, Karla finally disappeared again. The character took over and the elation consumed me. What was this feeling? Where had it been for so long? I knew I need to replicate it.
Now 6 months later, the characters that have appeared on screen in my likeness have provided me with such freedom, joy and bravery. I have to thank those who choose to play with me for allowing me to explore the sides of me that don’t feel like Karla and who aren’t bogged down in insecurities and imposter syndrome. When I play, Karla takes a back seat and the noise in my brain is silent as the viewpoints of the character show on my face and bellow through my voice. Some of these days, it’s ok to be some one else and I will continue to take advantage of those days.