WIT Student Courtney Chinn: Improv Lessons Helped Me Face COVID-19 Anxieties
WIT student Courtney Chinn was most of the way through her Advanced Harold class when COVID-19 turned the world upside down. As the pandemic dragged on, Courtney said she found herself turning more and more to the lessons she learned doing improv to stave off anxious feelings. She reached out to WIT to share how improv helped her wellness during this tumultuous time.
In mid-March, like everyone else in the U.S., I saw the impending changes the Covid-19 pandemic would bring. My last in-person improv experience was a practice with my FIST team and our coach. What would be my final class at [WIT’s training space] CentroNía, Advanced Harold with Jordana Mishory, came to an abrupt halt. Our final class meeting and showcase disappeared before our eyes.
In the early days of quarantine, I packed my belongings and retreated to my parent’s home, indefinitely. I eagerly welcomed the suburban life, the large backyard and pool, being surrounded by family and our dogs. As the days droned on and confusion, anger, and fear creeped in as numbers of cases ticked up, keeping my emotions in check was difficult.
Just prior to the global spread of the coronavirus, in one of my Advanced Harold classes, we stood along the backline, preparing to do a run through. Jordana offered feedback to our group on entering a scene. She told us not to worry about forcing a specific emotion on ourselves when entering a scene, rather to exist in our current state and enter the scene that way to create an organic performance.
‘Feel your feelings,’ she said.
That lesson stuck with me, inscribed permanently in my journal. Throughout this tumultuous summer, I’ve found myself suddenly caught off guard with emotions, grief for what could-have-been in 2020, fear of the unforgiving virus and one of the most hectic election years ever, and anxiety to fill in the gaps. In these moments where I physically couldn’t move, was too overwhelmed to leave the doorway of my childhood bedroom, I said aloud “Feel your feelings” as I heard it in CentroNía months ago. “I feel scared. I feel anxious. I feel happy,” I thought, thinking about the small joys.
When I finally had enough motivation to sign up for virtual group anxiety classes, the facilitator called upon us in the first class to share tricks we have used to control worrying. “Aw yes, feel your feelings, that’s a good one,” she agreed after I offered up my trick.
Other WIT curriculum lessons have taken on a greater meaning in these days, too. When my Level 5 Harold teacher Erick Acuña finished our course with personalized feedback, he suggested I “take up more space.” He may have meant this only in the improv sense, initiating more scenes without hesitation, being confident in my choices. I took it into and outside of improv. When the pandemic caused HR turmoil amongst my coworkers, I fled to my parents without hesitation, knowing this was the best decision for my physical and mental health, regardless of the judgment of my coworkers and the scrutiny of my supervisors.
And finally, in one of my very first improv classes in Level 1: Intro to Improv, we played a game called emotional foursquare. When walking around the room, we the players had to take on the emotion of the space in which we entered. Drifting gloomily from sadness into anger and stomping madly into fearful. Looking back this was practice may have prepared me for the emotional roller coaster of this year. The bright colors and shapes of a CentroNía classroom may disguise the significance of such an exercise.
Improv challenges players to step into their emotions, but first teaches you to identify them. “Feel your feelings” has taught me to understand how the daily shockwaves of living in a pandemic affects my emotional state. While Covid-19 has forced everyone to mask their face, my improv training has taught me not to mask my emotions.