Thirty years ago, Linda Patterson was a shy art student looking for change.
She found it when she founded East Bay Improv Performance Troupe, which has been entertaining audiences in Berkeley and teach the transformative art of improv to all ages.
Now she designs and teaches theater games that cure stage fright, break down social barriers and make people laugh so hard they get addicted. Patterson took time out of her mission to talk about the power of living in the present moment.
Your literature claims that improv helps people in
their personal and business life. How does it do that?
Linda Patterson: When you're playing, its hard to keep up your boundaries.
It helps you unlearn things you learned growing up, become a kid and play. Kids don't plan their days. They don't have an agenda or a calendar.
Improv teaches people how to let go of control and stay in the moment. No ones knows from one moment to the next where a scene is going.
All of the really fun things in life are right in the moment, and improv, by its very nature, requires that you stay in the moment in order to do it right.
You learn things about yourself that you didn't even know and that can give you confidence and appreciation for yourself.
Sounds great. Has improv caused any problems in your
Patterson: Well, it makes your mouth a little faster. It makes you very spontaneous, so you might be less reserved.
You can control it, though it be a little harder for younger people. But it's so much fun to be in the moment that you don't care.
Sometimes watching improv makes me tense because I
cal feel the pressure on the performers. Does it ever make you tense?
Patterson: When I first discovered improv 30 years ago and I'm 52 now. At the time, I couldn't even talk on stage.
The first improv class I took was at Laney Junior College, and it was terrifying. I had the worst case of stage fright I've ever seen. I loved it so much, I took it at every school I could.
Who are your improv influences?
Patterson: I studied with Bay Area Theatre Sports and Sue Walden in San Francisco; with J. Pringle at Hayward State and Patricia Ryan at Stanford University; with Keith Johnstone at Loose Moose Theatre's international improv teacher training in Calgary; and with Paul Sills, founder of Second City in Chicago, at a workshop in Wisconsin.
There's another Patterson in the troupe. Are you related?
Patterson: Yes, he's my son. Ever since he was a little kid I knew he was an improv natural. As soon as he was old enough, I had him come with me to classes.
He just got back from Loose Moose Theatre's improv teacher training in Calgary. It's intensive with improv teachers from all over the world.
What inspired you to start the school?
Patterson: I wanted to create something that I wished existed: an affordable and accessible improv school.
I wanted to keep it economical so people can just trip over it and try it, instead of having to commit themselves right away.
We teach six-week classes for $85 because we use the community center in Albany. There's no overhead, and we can raise some money with our performances, and snack bar and T-shirt sales.
Do people get addicted to improv?
Patterson: A lot of people live it. They do as much improv as they can get and go see as much improv as they can.
In improv classes you are going through social and physical changes. During class people laugh for two hours solid and they get physically used to that.
People go through withdrawals from those endorphins during breaks between sessions. Their energy starts to go down and they get depressed.
We've had to start offering field trips to shows in between class sessions because people call and say, "I'm desperate, can you help me?"
You laugh, but its true. It's a surprising phenomenon.