Naperville improv workshops aim to ease anxiety for stressed-out kids

 
 
Updated 10/23/2015 5:40 PM

Imagine being asked to perform improv comedy. Your first thoughts might be of dread, stage fright or those uneasy dreams in which everyone at work is in their underwear.

Improv might equal anxiety for many untrained in the art, but in a new program being introduced in Naperville it's being used to counter the worries and stresses of the young.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A two-part workshop called Improv for Anxious Kids and Teens on Nov. 7 and 14 is provided by Samaritan Interfaith Counseling and Artful Impact!, the nonprofit arm of the School of Performing Arts in Naperville.

Combining the expertise of licensed clinical psychologist Nancy Kratz from Samaritan and improv comedian Jonathan Keaton from the School of Performing Arts, the workshops use the principles of improv to teach coping skills to overcome anxiety.

"This workshop will actually teach kids about what is anxiety, why does my body react that way, what can I do to calm down," Kratz said. "There will be some talking and improv activities that are fun. We can laugh at ourselves."

While it might seem counterintuitive, the rules that govern improvisational comedy become the very tools that can help kids triumph over anxiety, Kratz said.

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In improv, no one gets to say "no" or turn down an idea. Comedians are forced to go with the flow and adapt in the moment. They also must share the spotlight and remember it's their job to make their fellow comedians look good.

"In improv, it's very collaborative, but you also are setting your partner up for success," said Deb Newman with Artful Impact! "The idea of being free to try things with the trust of someone else has big psychological implications for kids. The premise is there's no right or wrong answer."

In that type of freeing, welcoming environment, anxious kids can learn skills like self-expression, confidence in their body image and how to function in social groups, Newman said.

Improv exercises during the workshop won't focus on performance but on fun and on the acceptance and initiation of ideas, Keaton said.

Participants will learn to tune out their constant criticism and self-judgment and let their ideas flow, without concern for whether they're any good -- or remotely laughable. Keaton says this is a challenge when there's no script, no guiding topics, nothing to use as a crutch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"In improv, the words, the ideas, everything is coming from you," he said. "So it's a very vulnerable position until you get comfortable with it, and then it flips from very vulnerable to completely free."

Improvising becomes freeing when artists realize it doesn't have to be great. There's no pressure to achieve perfection. If it's not funny, no one laughs, and life moves on.

"All you've got to do is enjoy yourself," Keaton said. "Then the rest falls into place."

The workshop, which runs 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 7, and Saturday, Nov. 14, at Samaritan Interfaith Counseling, 1819 Bay Circle Drive, Suite 109, is designed for high school and junior high students.

"That is an age group that's pretty stressed out these days," Kratz said. "Whether it's the social drama, academic pressure or being in hockey five nights a week, there's just a lot of pressures."

Tuition is $80 and registration is open until the workshop begins by calling Kratz at (630) 357-2456, ext. 105, or visiting samaritancenter.org.

Participants will be among the first to engage in a new method of using improv to strengthen coping skills and improve mental health, program leaders say.

"The therapeutic piece is you get exposed to those situations that you would normally, out in the real world, be afraid of," Kratz said. "But it's all in this fun atmosphere, so you get to try it out with no judgment."

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