Senior Julia Peterson’s hands are sweating and her heart is pounding inside her chest. She’s trying not to think about the fact that she’s next up. She stands up in front of nine strangers and waits for the teacher’s instructions. She looks around the small classroom at the group of people, all united by one common interest: improvisation.
Peterson became interested in improv after reading Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants, and finding out how the famous comedian got her start. Growing up, Peterson had a love for comedy and would stay up late every weekend to watch Saturday Night Live with her parents.
After coming to the realization that improv would be a good way to learn the basics of comedy and share her humor with others, Peterson started taking classes in early January. After doing some research online, she came across KC Improv Company, a professional comedy club. Now, every Monday night from 7 to 9, she practices her performance skills at Trinity Lutheran Church. Her first improv show is Mar. 3 at the Kick Comedy Theater in Westport.
“I took a drama class at East freshman year, but I like improv better because it’s more creative and I’m not just a background person,” Peterson said. “In improv, I can make up my own character and I’m forced to come up with stuff on the spot because there isn’t a script.”
Peterson’s mother, Krista Peterson, was surprised about her daughter’s sudden interest in wanting to take improv classes because of her quiet personality.
“As a child she was fairly shy so this didn’t seem like something that would be in her comfort zone,” Krista said. “However, she is a pretty funny kid with an intellectual sense of humor, and these classes seemed like the perfect way for her to learn how to share her talents.”
There were different classes Peterson could choose from. Having no prior experience, she chose the level one class. There are four levels and each one has a duration of eight weeks; however, the teacher must approve of each participant’s progress in order for them to move on.
She noticed that she was the youngest one in the class by a few years, which intimidated her at first. After playing the first improv game, “emotion party,” she realized her shyness was gone. In emotion party, one person pretends to host a party and each guest that comes to the party has to act out a different emotion. At the end of the game, the host has to guess each emotion.
“I was so nervous walking in because usually whenever I do something new, I am with a bunch of other people in my same situation,” Peterson said. “I thought I would be more scared than I was, but after my class started the first improv game, it felt like everyone had known each other forever. Once I got into my character, I didn’t even notice the person I was in the scene with.”
Peterson’s teacher, Keith Curtis, has been a member of the company for 15 years. He makes members showcase what they already know, then he tells them what to work on so they can improve and advance to the next level. For Peterson, this means feeling more comfortable on stage.
“I know I’m funny but sometimes it’s difficult to show people that because I’m not super confident,” Peterson said.
Next year, Peterson plans on attending the University of Kansas and has been considering driving home every Monday in order to reach the highest level. One of her goals is to eventually do standup comedy, something most people do when they reach the fourth level. According to Peterson, standup performances are more difficult than they seem because there is no one else on stage to bounce ideas off of.
“I’m glad that I got involved in improv because even if I didn’t like it, at least I tried,” Peterson said. “My advice for people wanting to try something new is to just do it. Why not? There’s nothing to lose and everyone else starting out is just as nervous as you.”