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Conversations with the Inspiring Vanessa Anton

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vanessa Anton.

Vanessa, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I found improv during a divorce, right about the time I needed laughter the most. I remember thinking how I hadn’t laughed this much in a while. It was the most exhilarating, out of breath, belly hurting laughter with complete strangers. I hadn’t felt that joy for so long and I was hooked.

I had always been a theatre kid and majored in it in college, but the preparation for scripted productions was overwhelmingly different from that of improv. And yet, I was frightened by the unknown and preferred the scripts, binders, pens/pencils and various bags of things the big productions required, especially having studied stage management. With improv it was both scary and freeing to get on the stage without anything at all.

Once I finished the levels at National Comedy Theatre, it was difficult to figure out where to go from there. Improv was not abundant in San Diego at the time. But, I found auditions for a group called The Hinges and embarked on several years of more laughs and great friends. We practiced weekly and put on shows wherever we could. One of my favorite memories was our first time performing together at iO West in Hollywood. It was one of the most exciting moments I’ve experienced in my 21 years in California.

I wanted to keep learning and growing and I didn’t want to stop. I started commuting to Los Angeles for classes and attending camps and festivals. With the eventual opening of Finest City Improv in North Park, it provided a home to learn, perform and eventually to teach. Sidestage Improv (now Old Town Improv Company) was also blossoming at the time. I’ve also been lucky to teach at UCSD Recreation and currently for UCSD Extension.

I’m thankful for the incredible network of friends I have made around the US and the world through improv. Most of my travels are improv related whether to take classes or go to festivals. My first peak into improv abroad was a festival in Dublin. I’m heading back to Ireland this spring with additional visits and performances in Oslo and London. There are people doing improv all over the world. It’s quite amazing!

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
My journey is never as smooth as I’d like! Mostly because of my own struggles with depression, anxiety, and negative self-talk. Improv is an art form that brings about a mess ton of joy, but it can also highlight your own battles and insecurities. The highs and lows can be a little intense. But, I believe this is the journey in getting to love yourself. Improv isn’t just a bunch of silliness and jokes, there can be real breakthroughs involved.

I’ve had improv students who couldn’t even make eye contact or who felt overly anxious speaking in front of their classmates. The best moments would come when they’d get out of their comfort zones and face their fears. I never expected to love this the most about improv.

I’ve confronted my own struggles with confidence and feeling good enough. When I first started teaching, I would have mini panic attacks and worry that I wasn’t going to live up to what the students wanted. I have so much empathy for others that sometimes, I take on their emotional processes. And, I used to beat myself up for being too emotional or sensitive. I’ve really come to learn that what I think is my weakness is actually something that I can use to help others. And, I believe this is true for everyone. That thing that scares us, that we think is our weakness can be harnessed for better.

Improv has also made me realize that life is not one script or recipe for everyone. Sometimes, you can plan for all that you can, but the unexpected can still come your way and throw you off course. But, I’ve found that the, of course, is actually a really great place to live in. I’ve become better at letting go of living for the outcome and staying in the moment.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into your business story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m lucky to teach and coach improv in San Diego! I’m currently teaching at Finest City Improv and UCSD Extension. I also coach and sub coach for various teams in San Diego and beyond if it’s possible! I’ve recently been enjoying working with some college students at Cal State Fullerton.

I’ve become known for my focus on a vulnerability in improv. I like to encourage students to be authentic with where they’re at. It’s special when you see someone confront the thing that scares them, and put it out there for everyone to see. The real gift comes when that person is seen for who they are and still supported without any judgment.

When I first started doing improv I enjoyed the laughter and spontaneity – I still do of course. I never expected to discover this deeper element to it. The fear of being really seen, and the connection and camaraderie that comes from feeling accepted. And somehow the humor is far better when it comes from these deep genuine places. This is the kind of work I like to facilitate whether it’s an improv team trying to work on their connection or a group of people wanting to work on team building and communication.

Do you have a lesson or advice you’d like to share with young women just starting out?
Always remember that you are enough and that there is nobody else like you. That is your gift. But authentic to yourself and don’t give up.

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Image Credit:
Christina Perry

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