Improv Lessons for Parenting by Zoe Richmond

improv-colleendavespechtColleen Specht is a funny mom.  No, seriously, she is professionally funny. Besides being a stay at home mom to a boy who is 6 and a girl who is 4, she also started ImprovMania.

Colleen has been doing improv and stand-up for 16 year.  She meet her husband Dave Specht, who was in the same improve group in Arizona.  Sparks flew while they were doing shows every weekend, they got married.

Two years ago, they opened up an improv theater, ImprovMania in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler.  Chandler is one of those “family friendly” cities, where you find a lot of malls and Chucky Cheeses, but nothing as fun as an improv theater – until now.

“We dreamed about opening ImprovMania for a long time, it’s a passion we’ve had for a long time,” said Colleen.   “After we had kids, we could not devote the time to improv.”

As often happens with kids, they grow up.  Colleen and David found themselves with more time.

“We are either going to do it or not, so we just did it,” she said.  “Now we didn’t need to keep talking about it anymore.  If we failed, we failed.  At least we would have tried.  And we were ready to suffer for a bit.”

So far, ImprovMania had been a success.  They host shows Friday and Saturday nights and have experimented with an open-mic stand-up night on Thursdays, where they have built the reputation as the “friendliest room in Arizona.”

The Spechts have built up a business plan that also includes classes to the public, corporate functions,  and team building workshops.


“I knew our shows were going to be good, I knew we had a good product. The question was, where people going to walk in?  And people walked in,” Colleen said. “Stress is high because we cannot phone it in.  So much of our audience is word of mouth.”

Besides the show’s audience, the couple is aggressive in landing corporate accounts.  The Phoenix is area is home to many Fortune 500 companies, and ImprovMania offers a relief from overdone trust-falls and bowling outings as teambuilding exercises.

“I have been in sales for years, my husband has worked in corporate environments,” Colleen said.  “We also know the business side.”


Does life imitate art or does art imitate life?  In Colleen’s case, it’s both.  Her professional life in an improv troop impacts her parenting just like her parenting impacts her performances.

“Our parenting style is way more relaxed,” she said.   “We are not super serious.  We are goofy all the time on stage, then we get to go home and play.”

Colleen’s kids are at an age where they build whole words and act out imagined scenes.   She can take experiences from her life and translate them into her character work on stage.  She knows how to nail the part of a six-year-old and play a very convincing mother.

“And it plays well with the crowd. We have a lot of parents,” she added.

The early show at 7 p.m. is family friendly.  Even the 9 p.m. Adults-Only show still includes a lot of parents enjoying a night out who appreciate “parent humor.”


“Yes and…”

In improv, it’s not about questioning the situation, but accepting the circumstances and then finding a way to add to it.

“Sometimes our son does something that looks crazy, but we allow him the opportunity to explain,” Colleen said.  “It made sense in his mind.”


Improv’s very foundation is having a keen sense for listening to the other performers on stage.  Listening is a foundation for every relationship, and it should be doubly so for dealing with children.


Part of improv, like with any artistic endeavor, is to reveal yourself.  Parenting is a two-way street where children reveal to the parents but the parents must also reveal to their kids.

“We talk a lot with our kids, and explain why we do things a certain way,” Colleen said.


Unlike other forms of comedy, improv is team-based.  The whole team succeeds when everyone is successful.  It’s not about putting down others, but rather finding ways to lift everyone up towards success.  No matter what a family unit looks like, it’s still an assemble where everyone should work together and lift each other up.