Once the domain of aspiring performers, improv courses are increasingly being attended by students experiencing mental health problems
“Your heart’s beating faster, you feel all these eyes on you, your body reacts with panic.” No, it’s not the discarded first line of Eminem’s Lose Yourself, but Alex MacLaren’s description of how his students feel in work meetings, job interviews or even the pub. MacLaren teaches improvisational comedy at the Spontaneity Shop in London. At first, its courses attracted performers. Now, he estimates half his students are seeking help with anxiety or confidence.
It’s a trend noted by other improv teachers. In Manchester, Brainne Edge runs workshops as head of ComedySportz UK. In the past five years she’s seen the proportion of non-performers attending her courses rise to around 75%.