Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Laura Frustaci - Story of Self

Hi! My name is Laura and I’m currently a senior studying English with an Education Secondary. I’m originally from Massachusetts, so I never had to commute far to get back to school after a break! I have been doing theater performance since I was eight years old and improvisation since freshman year of high school. After eight years of “Yes, and…”-ing my way through scenes and life, I wanted to take a closer look at the purpose behind such seemingly silly comedic performances. 

Throughout my work as an arts educator, I have been curious to explore the impacts of improvisation in alternate arenas of life, away from the campus-lecture-hall-turned-stage. As a teaching artist with the American Repertory Theater, I work with young students on creating devised theater performances, which is essentially pre-scripted improv. They’re allowed to decide the words, characters, and actions presented, based loosely on a story we read at the beginning of the class. This teaches both creative agency in theater spaces and the importance of willful collaboration. 

As a Learning Lab Undergraduate Fellow at the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning and in courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I have spent time thinking about the applicable nature of improv within the classroom space, both for the benefit of students and teachers. By integrating tools developed on improv stages with classroom pedagogy, we open up both students and teachers to a more flexible, creative, trusting, confident environment. After all, no matter how much teacher preparation you have, the job is a lot of improv. 

Reflecting on all of these past experiences, I wanted to more tangibly look at the effects of improvisation on my improv group, On Thin Ice. I was curious if the other members had ever noticed a similar pattern of transferable traits, or recognized any of the overlap I was noticing.  
Improv is meaningful to me because it is one of the only art forms that is truly transient. An improv group performs a show for a live audience, with no preparation and no idea what is going to happen onstage, and there is no record of it after the show is over. Only the lasting memory of the humor and brilliance (hopefully, if the show is good) of the improvisers lives on. 

Comedy is crucial as a way to reflect on the world, process emotions, and just flat out have a good time. Some of my favorite moments of college have been during improv practices and shows. Improvisation is more than just a bunch of college kids doing kooky characters set in space or at McDonalds. It provides a space for creative development, collaborative work, and encourages confidence.

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