SK resident Alex Graudins shares her journey to self improvement through improv | Arts & Living
Self Improvement

SK resident Alex Graudins shares her journey to self improvement through improv | Arts & Living

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Alex Graudins had a bad case of social anxiety —  a potentially debilitating form of fear of judgment by others — so she started taking acting classes that put her in front of scores of people.

It helped the South Kingstown resident and now she is telling the story of her journey in a book titled, “Improve: How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety.”  

“It took a while to build up the courage to take the classes. There’s a difference between wanting to do it and doing it…Your so busy trapped in your own head, you don’t do anything,” she explained about the mental health condition that led to the book.

Her struggle is described in short dialogue for easy reading and illustrated in comic drawings that make for humor and entertainment while understanding a serious issue. It also taps into her talent as a comic artist the 28-year-old studied in college.

This Sunday, September 25, at 4 p.m., Graudins plans a book launch at The Contemporary Theater, where she took classes and found solace with other actors who helped in her early 20s with support and training to learn improv acting.

Improvisational acting, or improv, is a form of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up at the moment. With the possibility of something flopping, a person with social anxiety has to work at overcoming the fear of it happening in front of an audience.

In social anxiety disorder, fear and anxiety lead to avoidance which can disrupt your life. Severe stress from it can affect relationships, daily routines, work, school or other activities.

It also can be a chronic mental health condition, but learning coping skills in psychotherapy and sometimes taking medications can help someone gain confidence and improve his or her ability to interact with others.

“I was super quiet in high school and middle school,” she said, and that became an accepted lifestyle — though she attempted to break free of it — until college when she started leading clubs and other student efforts.

The anxiety grip imposed now further on her life, just budding with a promising future as happens with college students. Along the way, she said, she also sought out some psychological therapy.

To make matters worse, as college was ending and she was moving to a new town — Wakefield — she faced an uphill climb of meeting new friends.

The therapist recommended improv training and the CTC offered it. The match seemed perfect, she said.

Getting past thoughts of delay or facing others is hard, she said.

“I needed some kind of routine to get out of the house and it would benefit my mental health as well,” she added.

Graudins said she took about seven courses at CTC. At one point, she said, she experienced more doubt and wanted to try musical improv that “didn’t go so well and it was a blow to my ego.”

However, she kept pushing forward with the two-fold goal of overcoming some of the social anxiety and learning a form of acting that had long interested her anyway.

A guest teacher came to the CTC for teaching musical improv and inspired her, Graudins said, to do more long-form acting. Meanwhile, the growing friendships with the actors at the CTC brought more confidence.

“I was being pulled into different avenues in the same space. I was doing improv, but from different fronts, including a workshop and a weekly show that the theater puts on. I guess in that way, it was not only having these new things to try, but it was also having people ask me to try new things,” she explained.

“Having people reach out was a turning point,” she added about the foundation being built at the CTC both for personal and psychological growth.

“Not only did I sort of grow up with these people, but my skills grew up with them. These people were older than me and I always joked that I gained five parents because of the improv classes,” she said.

Meanwhile, Graudins said, she was keeping notes in comic book form — drawings that helped her express herself because words didn’t come easily — and these were the beginning of the book.

It was published earlier this summer and is available through various online booksellers and at Wakefield Books at the Wakefield Mall in South Kingstown.

Today she copes better, she said, because of the experience of taking improv, the camaraderie of other CTC actors and finding confidence as she wrote a book to help others.

“There is no cure for social anxiety, it’s learning about to live with it and how to do things that benefit you,” she said.