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If you're scared to do improv, just be yourself and, at the very least, do it for your mom (or someone else who loves you) Submitted by Shelan Markus, Annex Improv 'Continuing' student

Don't we all want to feel comfortable being ourselves? And don't we all want to make mom (or someone who loves you) proud?

My mom (I call her "Ema" - Hebrew for mom) beamed when she watched me on stage. What gave me joy, gave her joy, even if it was something she'd never want to do herself.

Ema is a shy person. She's soft spoken, never brags or gets confrontational. She connects with animals better than humans. She keeps her birthday private, lest someone throw a celebration for her. Her worst nightmare would be talking in front of an audience. With all this in her repertoire, she still appreciated and respected the stage as my happy place.

When I was 9 years old, Ema enrolled me in a youth monologue contest. Neither of us really knew what a monologue was; English is Ema's second language, I was still learning how to spell monologue, and looking up the definition of "monologue" on our dial up internet or Encarta felt inaccessible. We asked the monologue contest people. They gave us some examples. We read them over. None of them felt right, for me.

Ema and I always loved the Addams Family. So, we set out to painstakingly watch, rewatch, and craft a monologue based on the Debbie execution scene (played by Joan Cusack) in the Addams Family Values (1993). In her monologue, Debbie talks about her obsession with jewelry, money, and possessions. This led her to kill people; her parents and ex-husbands. Her parents' final fate came when they mistakenly got Debbie a Malibu Barbie instead of what she really wanted: a Ballerina Barbie. This, we thought, was the perfect monologue, for me.

During the contest, I watched the monologues of my fellow youth contestants. I realized my monologue was a little dark in comparison. However, it was too late now. I had to go with it, even if I was grossly out of place.

When I finished my Debbie monologue, I actually felt good. I loved that Debbie scene and now I got to share it with everyone, but the contest judges looked at me in sheepish shock. I couldn't tell if they thought my monologue choice was preposterous, if my acting fell flat, or if I had deeply offended my audience. I couldn't see Ema in the crowd, but I knew her heart raced with the same thoughts. My spirit collapsed. What had we done?

They lined us contestants up on stage and announced the third place, second place, and first place winner. At that point, I was just glad it was all over. My monologue experiment completed. Maybe it was best if I never touched a monologue or recited Debbie's words again.

But, it took me a second to leave the stage. Did I hear my name? Someone was pronouncing it wrong, but they were definitely trying to call and sound it out: Shae-lin, Sha-lawn? It turned out, they were repeat announcing the first-place winner's name. It was me.

In her demure way, Ema is not competitive, but we reveled in this win. So unexpected. So full of joy. But what I really think we celebrated was not the monologue win itself, but that I won by being myself. I won by going out there and doing something that felt true to me.

So, if you're scared of the stage, talking in front of people, or making an improv fool of yourself, at the very least, do it for your mom (or someone else who loves you). She/they will always be proud of you for being you. Be unique. Be yourself. And who knows, you might even feel like (or get the) gold doing it.

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