One of the major tenets of improvisational comedy is the concept of “Yes, and” — the idea that you should always not only enthusiastically agree with your fellow actors, but that you should build off of their ideas and inspirations. It’s a positive and affirming, if not a bit wacky, way to approach both scenes and life: not only do you accept the premise, but you have more to give.
In 2016, I became overwhelmed with the world. Crushing political developments on the global and national level made me feel totally helpless, from issues involving women’s rights to climate change. It became literally hard for me to get out of bed. Then, as I was talking about my depression to a friend of mine who’s a national activist, she told me something that changed my life: I needed to focus. On one issue that affected my local community, and in one way that took advantage of my unique skills and knowledge. All real change starts at the community level.
It was the advice I needed to move forward.
I made a deliberate choice, that day, to focus on equity in the stand-up comedy community – in Missoula and in Montana. And I’d put all of my efforts there. I started a free workshop for women and marginalized genders. I started producing shows that centered diverse voices as well as speaking out when bookers overlooked those voices. I listed the barriers to women, non-binary, and trans comics thriving in the scene and tried to break them down one by one.
Soon, I reached a point where I had bigger dreams for my goal than I could handle alone. And I needed more help to go further. I turned once again to my activist friend, wondering if I should start a non-profit, and she once again had just the right advice for me: a non-profit who can help probably already existed where I lived, I just had to find it.
And it did: a community arts center that was fighting tooth and nail for some of the exact same things that I wanted for the arts in Missoula and Montana – just on a bigger scale. It was called the ZACC.
And the very best part about the ZACC? From the moment I stepped through their doors, I was floored by the “Yes, And” attitude of everyone I talked to. No dream was too big. Nothing was off the table. Problems were seen as something to solve, not an excuse to quit.
Mikyla Veis, the ZACC’s Marketing and Events Coordinator, was game for everything, from bringing national and stand-up acts to the ZACC’s venue, the Show Room, to setting up a monthly stand-up comedy fundraiser that showcases diverse talent while getting money to our favorite local non-profits. Every time I had a new idea, she not only loved it, she had the next idea, too.
In the Show Room itself, Event Technician Christopher Baumann shared the same exact attitude. Not only can we achieve our current vision, we can go farther and do it better. I met more and more people, and with everyone I talked to, it was the same: Kia Liszak, Heather Stockton, Joe Kirk, Noelle Huser, Patricia Thornton, Delaney Wascherol – it was a chorus of yeses.
These days, I’m at the ZACC more than ever. I joined the Board of Directors in 2021, I teach a comedy camp for kids each summer, and me and my own kids are in and out of their doors for all sorts of reasons unrelated to my own shows, from classes and performances to fundraisers and events. It makes my family’s life better, and it makes Missoula better.
I’m not sure what the ZACC will accomplish next, yet, but I know it will be bigger and better than what’s come before, because yes and, yes and, yes and…
Sarah Aswell (she/her)
ZACC Board Member, Writer, Comedian, & Activist