Pushing boundaries with Fear Experiment

“Do one thing everyday that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

Imagine going from zero experience in an art form that scares you, to performing that very art form in front of 750 people at a major concert venue in your city. Fear Experiment is one experience that’s helped over a hundred adults take fear face on over the last few years in Chicago.

Good laughs at improv practice
Good laughs at improv practice

Fear Experiment creator Saya Hillman made the sign-up criteria clear – you sign up solo (so everybody starts off as strangers), and the idea of doing FE has to scare you. You must have had no formal training in dancing, improv, a capella singing, or stepping, and you’ve gotta be ready to be practicing twice a week for 3 months before being thrust on stage. Everybody has to work together and be supportive of each other. It’s kinda like summer camp for adults. One filled with like-minded individuals looking for a challenge.

People sign up for various reasons. Some do it to overcome social anxiety, some do it to be a good example to their kids. ABC7 News featured a stepper who proved just this past Saturday at Fear Experiment 3 that being deaf was no obstacle too big for her. When I signed up to do the improv portion, it was to push myself to speak my mind off the top of my head more. Growing up in a culture where sharing one’s opinion both at home and in school was never encouraged, I found myself struggling to participate in class at Northwestern; constantly over-thinking what I was about to say, afraid to offend or be incoherent.

On stage performing improv at Fear Experiment 2. (Shh... don't tell anyone we were pretending to be the Backstreet Boys.)
On stage performing improv at Fear Experiment 2. (Shh… don’t tell anyone we were pretending to be the Backstreet Boys.)

Learning improv in a fun, cozy environment that wasn’t already filled with people who were really good at it was a huge help. Our improv coach Pete did a great job of helping us all build trust in one another, so we would be better able to let go of our inhibitions and fear of being judged. We also practiced tuning out our inner self-critics (what Seth Godin fans refer to as The Lizard Brain). You know, the one constantly going “you’re not funny enough,” or “you look really ridiculous”. I also laughed hard enough at every practice to build some ab muscles. ;)

All in all, an absolutely fulfilling experience with a wonderful, diverse community and something I’d definitely recommend anyone. Friends don’t let friends get stuck in mundane work-eat-sleep cycles. There’s more to life than that. Go. Do something that scares you!

Here’s a peek at what happened pre and post-Fear Experiment 2:

While applications for Fear Experiment 4 are closed, you can still get on the waitlist here.

[Video Details]
Cinematography by: John Fecile and Jon Vogel
Producing & Editing by: Shuling Yong
Interviews conducted by: Lauren Harper

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