I’ve always been a theater kid at heart. I love the energy, creativity, artistry and exhilaration of being on stage. But coming into college, I had no real desire to pursue theater, although I knew I wanted to have some form of an outlet to express my creativity.
When I started my freshman year at Ohio State in August of 2016, all the new faces and opportunities excited me. Coming from out of state, I hardly knew anyone besides my roommate.
I wanted nothing more than to make a home for myself at this school I hoped to love so badly.
On top of my already festering nerves and anxiety, I attended a student involvement fair. A student improv team, known as Fishbowl, immediately caught my attention. I swallowed my fear of embarrassment and decided to audition.
The audition flew by. The Fishbowl members sat in a corner of the classroom as they diligently took notes on the auditionees’ performances. I blacked out from nerves that two hours of my life, only to leave me anxiously waiting for a late–night phone call informing me if I made it in the group or not.
With my roommate seeming to join a new club every hour, I grew increasingly concerned that I would never find my place in college. However, I must have done something worth noticing because that night, as I was watching an episode of Stranger Things in my tiny dorm room bed, I got a call from an unknown number.
It was Hannah from Fishbowl.
I shoot 50 feet out of my bed. Sweat pours down my face.
“Well, I just wanted to thank you so much for coming out to auditions. But unfortunately…”
My heart sank to my feet. My head spun. My eyes watered.
“Welcome to Fishbowl!” screamed an entire ensemble of voices. I got into Fishbowl.
I knew immediately that being in Fishbowl would change my life.
I quickly learned that being on a college improv team means more than weekly practices and a few shows each semester. Practicing improv not only allows me to explore my creativity like never before, but it has shaped my entire college experience by making me who I am today.
Any level one improv class tells you the first rule of improv is “yes, and,” which stems from the notion of agreeing with whatever your scene partner says and then adding something else. By “yes, and”-ing someone, you immediately create an imaginary world with your partner that never existed.
Ironically, the rule of “yes, and” came in most handy outside of improv. While searching for my home in college, I made it a rule to say yes to everything. If anyone invited me to get coffee, yes. If anyone invited me to walk across campus to go to the good dining hall, yes. If someone invited me to go to an extra credit seminar on nuclear physics, yes, and I will bring my notebook.
By saying “yes” to everything and sharing my ideas, I gained countless new experiences and friends along the way.
By the fall of sophomore year, Fishbowl played a different role in my life. We had eight seniors leave and we welcomed six new fish. Overnight I became a senior member as I took the new fish under my wing and ensured they felt welcome.
With this new era of Fishbowl, I began to fully embrace what it means to love your partner. The idea of loving your scene partner comes from having mutual support and shared determination to make the scene succeed. As the group began spending more time together outside of practice than in practice, I noticed Fishbowl evolve into something more than a club.
In spring semester, we traveled to improv festivals all over the Midwest, spending upwards of ten hours in the car together and sleeping on apartment floors. The experiences we shared are now my most treasured memories in college because of how much love we had for each other.
Being in improv for two and a half years makes you a little jaded to the novelty of comedy.
Everyone who knows me knows I’m in Fishbowl, which makes people sort of expect me to be funny. I imagine demands to tell a joke right after telling someone I do improv is like doctors feelings when strangers ask them to check out a weird rash. It’s uncomfortable. I found myself with a reputation that demanded more of me than I had to offer.
Junior year ended my honeymoon phase of college. Three prominent members graduated from Fishbowl and I didn’t like being one of the oldest in the group. Demanding classes and mounting pressure from finding internships caused me to doubt myself as a student and detach from things that once brought me joy.
Although our passion for comedy mainly unites Fishbowl members, we also understood and valued each other’s feelings and stress.
As much as people see comedy as an expression of happiness and creativity, at times it is a way to escape the deepest struggles in one’s life. With this in mind, trusting your scene partner becomes more than just “yes, and”-ing their ideas—it comes down to loving them unconditionally and understanding on a deeper level.
Despite recurring feelings of self-doubt, insecurities and forced performances when I really just want to run home and hide, my Fishbowl family gets through to me and continues to inspire me to become my best self.
Even when my life seems like a total mess, Fishbowl kept me grounded and has always been my constant. I have seen dozens of members come and go, each bringing a new light with them and leaving behind a legacy. My Fishbowl friends have seen me at my best and my worst and loved me through it. That is more than I could have ever hoped for in my college home.