PLAY IT — Laura Wachtel (left in red) leads a beginning improv class at Collective in Sebastopol.

When you think of the fast-thinking, freewheeling theater sport of improv, what sort of person comes to mind? It probably wasn’t “introvert.” Improv, after all, seems like an exercise in extroversion.

Laura Wachtel

Laura Wachtel

That’s an impression that Laura Wachtel of ZipLine Improv would like to change. Wachtel, who teaches a class called “Improv for Introverts” at Collective in south Sebastopol, said there are a lot of misconceptions about what improv is and isn’t.

“A lot of people confuse it with stand-up, which is about getting out there and doing your schtick. Improv isn’t about getting up and being funny,” she said. “It’s about getting up and working with your partners and allowing funny things to happen.”

In fact, Wachtel said, improv relies on many skills that introverts are already good at, like listening and making space for others — something many extroverts struggle with. But it also calls on skills that some introverts find difficult — like “knowing when to contribute, feeling out the energy of things and knowing when it’s your turn to speak,” Wachtel said.

That’s why Wachtel, a self-described introvert who’s been involved in improv for 13 years, decided to offer the class.

“I wanted to pass it on because it pretty much changed my life,” she said. “I started off with a really scared and introverted approach, and I didn’t like a lot of attention. It was hard for me to make my voice heard, and yet I stuck with it and it really helped me in so many ways.”

Wachtel said her class is much like any other beginning improv class.

“The content doesn’t change — the improv foundations, the building blocks haven’t changed, but I’ve tailored them to make them a little more comfortable for those for whom it might be a reach,” she said. “The main difference with the introverts class is that a lot of things in improv can be very popcorn-based — like you throw something out there and speak when it occurs to you to speak. Some people are very outgoing and that works well for them, but those that aren’t can feel really buried by that approach. They feel like they don’t have the space to say their piece.”

Instead, in the introverts class, Wachtel just works her way around the circle of participants, taking turns.

“I know that when I was starting out, things where you just had to jump in were way harder for me than things where it was my turn,” she said.

Dance teacher and self-confessed introvert Rachel Wynne took the “Improv for Introverts” class and is now involved in regular improv classes.

“I’d seen Laura perform and I knew she was a fantastic improviser and wanted to learn from her,” Wynne said. “I also loved the name of the class. I figured that walking into a classroom potentially filled with other introverts would be less scary than walking into a regular improv class, which are often filled with extroverts. And it was less scary!” she said. 

Wynne said doing improv has helped her build confidence. In addition, Wynne said,  Wachtel’s class “helped me realize that introverts are as important in an improv scene as the extroverts, and as an improvisor, that’s been liberating.”

Introvert Galen Palmer said the “Improv for Introverts” class “brought me a step closer to myself — and therefore to all creation.”

Palmer, who said he appreciated Wachtel’s “gentle, experienced and supportive encouragement,” calls improv “a laboratory for living … and also a training ground … a ‘Who am I?’ gym where anything is possible … and at any speed.”

“A lot people think you have to be a really out-there, leaping all over sort of person to do improve,” Wachtel said, “but that’s not the case. That’s not what improv is all about. Improv for Introverts creates a safe space tailored for those of us who need a little more time to get out of our shells.”

Find out more about Improv for Introverts and other improv classes at Wachtel is offering a 6-week Beginning Improv class starting Feb. 26. She’ll be scheduling another daylong “Improv for Introverts” class soon.

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