“Improv comedy? I could never do that!” is often what I hear when I tell people about one of my chosen pastimes. My reply is always, “Oh yes, you can – you just haven’t tried it yet!”
My introduction to long-form improv (improvisational theater) came when a friend invited me – along with all his Facebook friends – to his showcase performance at HUGE Improv Theater in Minneapolis. As I watched, I thought it looked super fun and wondered how I could get involved.
At that time I was working at Luther Seminary, connected with two Lutheran congregations and aware that in most of my encounters, my connections were based on “being Lutheran.” I was trying to be intentional about building relationships outside of Lutheran circles, and improv class seemed like the perfect way to do that. When I found out that I could volunteer in the front of the house to cover the cost of the classes, I knew I had to sign up.
I started taking long-form improv classes in spring 2013, and things haven’t been the same since.
Doing “good improv” requires honesty and bringing my whole self to the stage. I’ve found that improv nurtures a spirit of collaboration, kindles connections and brings out joy, all of which help people conquer and cast out fear (of the stage, of personal hang ups, of rejection and more).
As I know from my life in the church, these are the elements that create community. I have found a supporting, loving, challenging and sometimes broken community in my improv circles.
At improv, I’m not defined by my work in the church. I get to simply “be Elizabeth” and see who I become in this creative context. Often I surprise myself.
So when I first started attending classes and shows, I was amazed at how much religion came up. It came up often and in theologically astute ways, complete with the complexity of pain, brokenness and appreciation related to experiences of organized religion.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Faith, spirituality and religion are about things that shape our lives. If improv is about bringing our whole selves to the stage, then of course, religion will make an appearance – and usually be hilarious.
A few months ago, I was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. In my improv community, as elsewhere, some changes came with having this defined role. The change inspired one friend to bring up spirituality with me in a new way, which led to a two-hour conversation about the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer.
As I continue to explore the world of improv as a creative outlet, I pray that my eyes and heart remain open to moments of connection. My hope is that people experience the Christian church and God’s love and care through me in a more inclusive way than they may have experienced before.