Graduating from the music improv program

Mariam Sobh Hijab Fashion and Hijab Style Blog

Well, it’s officially over. The year long course I took in musical improvisation.

If you’ve kept up with me, you may already know that I have been studying improvisation and sketch comedy for a few years.

Part of the reason I did that, was as a way to get over nerves when speaking or singing in front of people, as well as to help learn techniques for acting, and being better at spontaneity during auditions etc.

It was a great program, and I enjoyed learning new things, because I never had any background whatsoever in musical theater.

The one thing though, that I feel bad about, is that I didn’t really get to be myself during the program.

I feel like I would let my guard down and give it my all when we’d act and “improvise” (which basically means you make up a scene on the spot based on some kind of suggestion from the audience) and then there were times when I felt self conscious.

It’s something that many performers go through, and part of the point of improv is to let go and just accept the moment. For the most part, I was ok. But I often doubted myself. My classmates were all accomplished and had theater backgrounds or music backgrounds… and I’m more of a self taught kind of gal. Plus I was working full time and having 2 kids it was tough to dedicate the time I really wanted to, in order to immerse myself in the experience. And at one point I was facing a lot of stress from a previous job that I almost quit the program.

Despite all that, I still enjoyed it.

But, when the last half of the program rolled around and we had to start writing our own material and making up characters and casting our classmates in our writing… that’s when I started to feel really self conscious.

I know that I’m overly sensitive, and sometimes when I’m in that zone, I may take things personally that weren’t meant to be that way.

It’s something I learned I’m not alone in.

When I did a feature story for Public Radio on the lack of diversity in the improv world, I remember talking to a performer who told me she had to face all this baggage when she first started. And she said it’s because we (diverse actors) tend to project what we assume people are thinking about us. It comes from years of discrimination, stereotyping and other negative things we may have experienced, and we start to believe that’s what others see us as.

Back to the writing… what I feared most was that people would not cast me in their material, because now it wasn’t about improv anymore. It was about memorizing lines and a scripted show. Basically at the end of the program whatever our director liked of our written material would end up in a 45 minute show that we would perform every Sunday for 8 weeks.

Well, if I wear the hijab, how can people see me as other than a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf? How can I play Mrs. Smith or Jane the ditzy cheerleader? That’s what I kept thinking everyone else must be thinking.

Suffice it to say, I have no idea whether those thoughts played in other people’s minds.

Because I was worrying so much it prevented me from really showing my acting skills and what I have to offer. And it became a vicious cycle, because I didn’t feel included…I began to withdraw a little more.

Then I finally snapped out of it and decided I would keep writing as much material as I could and make sure that I did something that would include everyone at some point.

It’s hard when you’re the only Muslim woman in hijab that’s doing these things. There is this added pressure that you have to be a good example for the Muslim community because you want others to see you as “normal” in case they have skewed images of what a Muslim woman is like. And I say that because there are slim to none that are visibly Muslim in the improv world, so I feel like somehow it’s falling on my shoulders to dispel all the stereotypes out there-even though I’d rather just be playing Jane the ditzy cheerleader.

I can’t tell you how many random things I’ve heard over the years including my pet peeve “Your husband is ok with you doing this”? I get that from Muslims and non Muslims alike lol.

So, basically I’m just trying to digest out loud what I experienced so far.

I know that I’ve learned a lot and I’ve added to my skill set.

If it wasn’t for improv, I most certainly would not be where I am today.

Overall, I would say that I definitely had to confront uncomfortable feelings, and challenge my negative thinking.

Improv is something I would highly recommend to anyone looking to get out of their comfort zone. And because of it, I plan to continue pushing myself outside my comfort zone and continuing to try new things 🙂

Have you ever experienced that feeling where you aren’t sure if you fit in or if people accept you as you are? Do you think it’s harder when you’re the only person of your background? What have you done to get out of your comfort zone?

This article has 1 comment

  1. Zainab

    Wallah I understand exactly what you mean about the projection issue. I have a personal story about applying to jobs I would like to share by email if possible. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration! You are not alone!

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