Ceci De Robertis: Harold team coach, biologist-turned-lawyer, and lover of invertebrates
The comedian Tracy Morgan famously has a shark tank. By contrast, WIT teacher and Wallawoo coach Ceci De Robertis has two aquariums full of baby shrimp. A biologist-turned-environmental lawyer, Ceci recently spoke with us about how she went from taking an improv class to help with stage fright to becoming someone who teaches improv to others.
First things first: Why shrimp?
I fell in love with them because they are entertaining and have a lot of personality if you watch them up close. They are like their own telenovela — they fight, they get into relationships, they make babies.
A self-described “animal nerd,” you actually earn a living protecting the critters, as an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency. We’re impressed! How did you get into this line of work?
I used to be a biologist but I was too extroverted for lab work. I worked for a couple years in the sciences before I realized that I would be a lot more helpful in the legal world than the research world. I went to law school knowing that I wanted to pursue environmental law. The transition from science to legal really paid off for me because at the core I am still that animal nerd. I love what I do and I’ve been able to have a lot of adventures. I’ve worked in the private sector, for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and for the EPA!
Have you found that you approach your work differently at all, since studying improv? It has a way of seeping into every area of a person’s life.
Oh yes! One of the main reasons I pursued improv was that I had terrible, TERRIBLE stage fright. I would go out of my way to avoid court or any type of public speaking. Once I even called in sick to avoid a public speaking engagement. Improv has absolutely given me the confidence to get in front of a crowd. Public speaking isn’t natural for everyone and I had to learn how to do it. More importantly, improv has made me more flexible to change. For instance, when I worked at the White House, every day had a curveball or two, and I was ready to “yes, and” that change
Editor’s note: Saying “yes, and” to the information your scene partner provides in an improv scene is one of the most powerful tools for building something creative together on the fly. Learn more about “yes, and” by taking one of our intro classes, meant for people of every background.
What would your one-sentence pitch be for why someone who’s never done improv before should give it a try?
Learning how to play will benefit every aspect of your life.
What is your favorite thing about teaching improv?
I enjoy teaching because I get to help my students achieve their goals. People come to improv for all sorts of reasons. For example, I got into it to conquer stage fright. I see myself in a lot of the Level 1 students because they also have that goal! But I get to help people with all sorts of goals such as dealing with social anxiety, making new friends because they are new to the city, finding creative outlets, exploring how silly they can be, etc. I get to meet incredible people and get to help them — what could be better?
What’s the last thing that made you laugh out loud?
It was a “That’s what she said” joke. I wasn’t just laughing — I snorted, too!
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