The Improv Student

Recently, one of the students turned major league player of ComedySportz

Glenn Abernathy

shared his story at one of our High School League practices. Many of us had not heard his story, and we were moved and asked if he would write and share his story. Thank you for sharing your story

“I was not a particularly happy child during my formative years. In middle school, I fluctuated between having zero friends to maybe a maximum of about 3. Most of my time in class was spent either being sarcastic or being quiet. I went to school, I played video games, I ate, and I slept.

My parents were not a fan of that lifestyle, as it turns out. As punishment for my apathy, they shoved me into a couple weeks of ComedySportz kidz camp. CSZ camp lasted 4 days per session, three hours per day, plus a little showcase on the last day for our folks to see what we learned. In terms of content, the camps were rather simple. We were taught to work as a team, get out of our heads, and enjoy ourselves via lots and lots of improv games, ranging from simple scene games to wars with poison swords.

I was not amused.

They wanted the kid who hated people to be a team player. They wanted the perpetual thinker to act on instinct. They wanted the child with the eternal scowl to get rid of it.

My thoughts after one summer of CSZ: NO NO NO A MILLION TIMES NO.

Naturally, I had a lot of problems throughout the last year. My parents were concerned, once again, about my ever-simplifying lifestyle. I ate less, slept less, and aside from spring track, did virtually nothing of substance. So, naturally, they signed my surly butt up for another three weeks of camp.

I will admit, these sessions were a good deal better than the previous ones, for two reasons. First, my quiet side had pretty much gone extinct, so only sarcasm remained. While this wasn’t necessarily the best thing for the people around me, it was much easier to get out of my shell this time around. Second, I made a friend. Only one friend, yes, but quite a good friend, especially considering my penchant for driving people away at this point. By the end of week three, me and the aforementioned friend were close enough that she was able to twist my arm into auditioning for the CSZ high school league with her that fall.

(SIDE NOTE: I still have no idea why they let me audition at that point, let alone why they let me in. I was below high school age, I wasn’t actually in high school, and, other than a reasonable sharp mind, I showed no aptitude for improvisation. I routinely tried too hard to be funny, I picked my spots too meticulously, and I was an absolute black hole as far as team play goes. My parents were benefactors of the theatre at this point, and my little sister, two years my junior, was a much friendlier, much more responsive person. I guess it’s their fault.)

The rest of ComedySportz high school league did not take as well to me as my friend did. There were about 20 of us when I was accepted into the troupe, and the other 18 of them either hated me or were allergic to me. And, frankly, I don’t blame them. Did I mention that I was a sourpuss with a lot lot lot lot lot of teenage angst? I spent the first several months of CSZhsl stuck between a rock and a hard place. I hated being at home, so I spent most of my weekends there, between the practices and the major league shows (To which I had free admittance).

And, by spending time at CSZ, I mean I spent most of my time in the parking lot. During practices, I typically had the common decency to at least stay in the theatre (Though I’d take prolonged trips to the bathroom to avoid going onstage for games that made me uncomfortable. Read: Most of them). I pretty much sat in the back, shut up, and zoned out. During the major league shows, I’d typically grab my iPod and just walk around in the parking lot out back, which has probably become the most famous part of this story. It got so bad at times that my folks came to the shows JUST to make sure I actually watched. But I really couldn’t. I hated the people onstage. They were so good and I was so horrible. I didn’t get it.

Boy, I didn’t get it.

But then something funny happened.

There must have been a conference or something, because things turned after a while. A few people looked at me differently. I wasn’t a surly, unaccepting, sarcastic kid anymore. I was a kid with real problems who needed help. So they picked me up. I’m sure I tried a fair bit to shove them away, but they didn’t budge. And why would they? They were my teammates. And the only one that didn’t understand that was me. After 2+ years there, I still didn’t get the point of ComedySportz Richmond.

Coincidentally, this coincided with the worst summer of my life. My pre-high school summer was filled with all kinds of crap. I got slammed with all sorts of everything, and then some. I got thrown from my own little world into a world where I absolutely couldn’t survive. Since I had no school, there were no academics to take my mind off it either. It was either the real, suddenly cruel world, or it was ComedySportz. For the first time, CSZ wasn’t a convenient way to feign business to my parents (or myself). I needed it.

So, despite all my issues, I sat up a little straighter. I talked a little friendlier. I moved my chair a little closer. I opened my ears a little more. It took a long time, but the light came on. I was still a long way away from ideal: I still fumed on the inside every time somebody else was team captain (Which happened most of the time) or when someone beat me at my favorite game (Which happened less), and I still measured my shows on how many people laughed at me and what I was able to accomplished. But I was onstage, I was thinking less, and I was driven as hell to put a good product on that stage.

My social life improved dramatically after this, and I started to notice some things. Improv requires confidence, decisiveness, teamwork, trust, attitude, and drive. As I slowly added these traits to my improv repertoire (And I stress slowly. I was nowhere near complete at any point during my high school league career), they translated into my life. As I made friends, I got a little happier. I still had issues dealing with my life, but I had made it into something I could live with. As the improv experience grew, the life improvements continued to build in the long run, despite inevitable setbacks. I wouldn’t say at this point that I “got it,” but I was certainly in the process.

April 28, 2009, if memory serves, was the final day of existence for ComedySportz Richmond on Staples Mill road. I was crushed. I still needed ComedySportz. I wasn’t done growing into myself yet. I had never been one to show emotion, despite the troubled soul inside, and I still spent hours crying. I’m not sure something has ever made me as upset.

What I didn’t realize, though, was that the damage had been done. For good. (Well, perhaps damage is the wrong word)

Despite my lack of a stage, my confidence still found ways to build. My apathy continued to disappear. My faith in humanity continued to restore. My reliance on my fellow man contined to grow. My outlook on life grew increasingly bright. Why? Because CSZ was, is, and always will be embedded in my brain, my heart, and my soul. ComedySportz gave me a life worth living. It might sound cheesy, but that’s not an exaggeration. In fact, it doesn’t do CSZ enough justice.

In the years between CSZs, I did a few things to pass the time. I ditched my abhorrence for scripted acting and finally got my rear end into some plays. So far, I’ve been part of a school one-act that advanced to regionals, several plays (Including one lead role and another to come this summer), and a couple random open mic nights where I tried to do some stand-up (I don’t think I’m THAT bad at it. Others might disagree).

My name is Glenn Abernathy, and I think I get it.

The new CSZ opened up in Gold’s Gym Plaza in April 2011. As of July 12, 2011, I have been a player in the CSZ Major Leagues. I assist in a lot of the programs designed to teach kids the values of improv and the fun it can bring. I perform on many weekends in the shows I used to hate to watch. I regularly WATCH (and enjoy) the shows I used to hate to watch. I regularly perform in birthday and other child-audience remote shows.

And now, it seems as if I have become the poster boy for CSZ, and how it can make a happy person out of anyone. CSZ Richmond, and everyone involved between 2005 and now, thank you. You saved my life.”


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