“Everyone was on fire. Everyone was great on their own and also great together. I don't remember a single pickup or joke that felt flat.”
Unlike Patrick Ryan’s previous teachers, his 6th grade history teacher didn’t punish him for messing around during class. Instead, she pulled him aside and asked if he had any outlets to cope with attention difficulties.
She explained that her son (at that time, a sophomore at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, Calif.) also struggled to focus, but improvisational theatre (improv) provided him a designated time to joke around. She had him come to the middle school and talk to Patrick.
“[Her son] told me that improv is going to be one of the best times in my life,” Patrick said. “Everything he said just came true. It was amazing.”
Although Patrick didn’t have much stage experience before high school, he decided to try out for the Bellarmine improv team, Sanguine Humours, during the second week of his freshman year. That decision changed his life.
Throughout elementary and middle school, Patrick had grappled with insecurities and doubts. Difficulties with friends had led him to develop depression and struggles with academics due to ADHD had decreased his self esteem. Improv provided him not only an outlet to focus, but also incredible connections, unforgettable experiences and ways to cope with any negative thoughts he was feeling.
“All these new doors and pathways were opened up to me and my confidence went through the roof,” Patrick said. “As I got better every year, I was able to put myself out more both on stage and off stage in class, at a party or even at the grocery store. By senior year I was overflowing with confidence. I was on top of my game.”
Every Friday for four years, he would meet up with his teammates after school, get lunch and then begin running through various games designed to build acting skills, such as “Scenes from a Hat,” “Places,” “A Swinging Pendulum of Death,” and “My Movie.” Every year, the team would hold 1-2 shows on the main stage, during which the team members would play 5-6 games in front of approximately 150-200 people.
Although the team members would prepare a lineup of who would play each game prior to the show, the characters, setting and storyline would all be based on suggestions from the audience. How the games unraveled depended on the actors’ instincts and imaginations.
Patrick said that he enjoys how improv, unlike a play with scripted lines, gives him complete control over his actions. He loves being on stage and doesn’t get nervous before shows, for he trusts himself and his teammates.
“There are times where I have felt unstoppable: every joke was landing, everyone loved [the show],” he said. “More importantly, my teammates were also having great nights and everyone was laughing and having a great time.”
His favorite show was from the fall of his senior year. He remembers “the overwhelming feeling of everything — the joy and the laughter, the lights on his face, the happiness and the love for his teammates,” he had experienced.
“Everyone was on fire,” he said. “Everyone was great on their own and also great together. I don't remember a single pickup or joke that felt flat.”
During that show, he performed a “silly and immature” scene in which he and his teammate, David, pretended to be two obviously gay man flirting with each other in a taco truck. Although the two had great “chemistry” on stage, they had not always liked each other.
David was one of the several people who had bullied Patrick throughout elementary and middle school. As payback, Patrick convinced his teammates not to allow David on the improv team his sophomore and junior year. He held his grudge until senior year, when he caved and decided to let David join.
Although their interactions were tense at first, the two settled out their disagreements and got to know each other during the months leading up to the fall show. Patrick said that that scene was the final point of fixing their relationship.
“[During that scene] I looked over and I saw this person who I hated for most of my life doing a scene with me,” Patrick said. “We were doing so well and we were getting some of the hardest laughter I’ve ever heard.”
Now, he considers David one of his closest friends and that show — as the highlight of his life.
While Patrick, now 19, left Sanguine Humours when he graduated high school in 2019, the confidence he gained and the memories he created remain. Improv continues to be a meaningful part of who he is.
Now, he writes comedic sketches with some of his former teammates and supports the improv team by attending almost every show.
He hopes to begin acting semi-professionally at a theater in downtown San Jose and turn his love of performing and entertaining into a career, perhaps through voice or comedic acting.
I've always had a desire to entertain,” he said. “I really enjoy standing on the stage and making hundreds of my friends, my family and the friends and family of my teammates laugh. It’s the best feeling in the world — knowing that you're bringing joy to all these people.”