Rose and Dean Waggenspack thought their 40-year marriage was filled with good humor and good communications. Then they decided that they could sharpen both—and have lots of fun—with improv comedy classes.
Dean, 66 and a career coach, brought home the idea in 2018. “I was at a conference, and a guy I didn’t even know was talking about his improv class. It sounded interesting.”
“Sure. Why not,” Rose told him. The couple had enjoyed ballroom dancing classes. Rose, 63 and a licensed massage therapist, says she’s an extrovert who loves to laugh. She chuckles, “And Dean has been making stuff up for a long time.”
They signed up for the Level I improv class at Dayton’s Black Box Improv Theater with 12 other adult students. One classmate wanted to improve his speaking skills. Several wanted to make new friends. All were substantially younger. “We certainly raised the average age there,” Rose notes. But it didn’t matter.
Improv is all about building a scene together. Dean says their teacher emphasized good improv is not about standing out. You must work together and give your scene partners good ideas so everyone can add on and make the audience laugh.
“I’ll always remember the first exercise,” Rose says. In pairs, students were told to plan a party. “But say ‘no’ to your partner’s suggestions.” Not much progress. “Now try saying ‘yes, but’ to every suggestion.” Still no progress.
“Then the teacher told us to answer each suggestion with ‘yes and’,” Rose emphasized. Party plans took shape as one idea layered upon another.
So important for improv—and life, says Dean, adding he still catches himself saying “no” or “yes but” to Rose when they discuss home improvements or upcoming plans. “Now I try to get more information before I react.”
“It was so much fun,” adds Rose. And both say they improved their listening skills and grew to appreciate their classmates’ senses of humor, no matter how different from their own.
It didn’t take long for the lessons to begin to sink in. “I was hooked,” says Dean.
Not that it was always easy. “I struggled in the beginning,” Rose admits, noting her talkative personality made it hard to keep her ideas succinct.
“You have to set up your idea quickly and let it go,” says Dean.
He adds he struggled with staying in character. Holding an accent was difficult. And, in one evening, “I was a robot, a talking dog, a fairy godmother, and Christmas ornaments in the attic.”
But the fun of it all outweighed any challenges. The couple and most of their classmates, they say, signed up for Improv Level II before their Level I graduation—a live performance at the theater.
The class went out together after the show. “It was great. We had laughed together for weeks. And we did it all together. That’s what matters,” says Dean.
Now, five years later, Rose and Dean perform with an improv ensemble Wednesday nights at the Black Box. They’ve completed Improv Classes Level, I, II and III multiple times, just to continue improving. They’ve participated in more than 70 Black Box shows. Dean even wove some classmates’ life stories into his recently published book about how small changes can lead to big successes in career and life.
“We’re by no means good,” Dean says. “But that’s OK. It’s just supposed to be fun.”
Black Box Improv Theater
The Black Box Improv Theater offers classes year-round, say Garrett Geilenfeldt, creative director and a theater owner. Geilenfeldt says the theater has had more than 500 students and graduates since its 2012 opening in downtown Dayton.
The three-hour classes are once a week for eight weeks and cost $175. “It’s a welcoming community for all ages,” says Geilenfeldt. Owners also work to get students and graduates together for potluck dinners, Dayton Dragons games and other social events.
Check out a show, Geilenfeldt suggests. There are four shows a week, Wednesday ($5) through Saturday ($15). (Thursday performances are $10 and Fridays shows are $15). Check the theater schedule for more details.