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The Afflicted: Washington Improv Theater managing director Topher Bellavia, who’s been leading locals in improv classes since 2001

Diagnosis: A serious case of seriousness. For WIT, getting strait-laced Washingtonians to let loose can take a lot of work. “It is our dream to get everyone on Capitol Hill into an improv class,” says the 34-year-old Bellavia. “But they can be very intimidated by it.”

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Symptoms: A crippling sensation of boredom. Though many students come to WIT seeking a fun after-work stress reliever, at first “people are afraid that they won’t be funny, or that it will be this weird, arty, touchy-feely type thing,” says Bellavia. He sympathizes: “Some people think it’s the scariest thing in the world to be out on stage in front of 75 people and have nothing to say.” But such resistance to off-the-cuff silliness can be doubly true of Beltway types, something Bellavia knows from experience: In 1997, he moved to D.C. to work in Sen. John Kerry’s office. “That lasted one day,” he says. “I recognized immediately that it was not going to be any fun.”

Treatment: Market improv to D.C.’s special interests. “The lessons in improv are definitely applicable to political work,” says Bellavia. “It helps with public speaking, listening, and understanding motivations.” Though Bellavia claims that improv “saved my life in D.C.,” not every Hill staffer can stick with it. “We did have one Senate chief of staff take a class. He enjoyed it but had to move on when his senator wasn’t re-elected,” says Bellavia. “But I don’t think that was our fault.”

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