Feeling like your best self

Tyler Improv
“I truly feel like I’m my best self when I’m hosting,” says improviser and producer Tyler Morgan.

As improviser Tyler Morgan says, “I just need to be myself and that’s enough.” And he’s absolutely right. Since pursuing improv last year, I felt myself becoming more confident and more comfortable in my own skin.

Anyways, let’s meet Tyler, an improviser who moved to Toronto from Winnipeg five years ago. Now, he performs sketch and improv all over Toronto. He also produces the monthly show Zero Hour Improv at Comedy Bar, now celebrating its two-year anniversary (let’s have some cake!). Tyler opens up about how he got into improv and how he feels like his best self while on stage.

How did you get into improv?

Improv was a secret art form that I had watched on “Whose Line is it Anyway?” but I had no idea how to learn it. I did some research and found the Manitoba Theatre for Young People. One of the classes they taught was improv. The only thing standing in my way was my mom. My mom at this point thought I was going to be a businessman or a lawyer. Comedy wasn’t even in sight at this point. I gathered up my courage to ask her to sign me up.

She calmly yet sternly said “No.” I accepted this answer.

A few weeks later, my mom was driving me to school and I had a new way of asking her to sign me up. Her blue Buick drove down the snowy trail as I waited for the perfect moment. I turned to my mom, who had her eyes on the road, and I quietly peeped “Mom, if you really love me you’ll sign me up for improv classes.”

My mom didn’t look at me, we passed by the “Pic a Flic” where we used to rent movies for a dollar on Thursdays, with total silence. We stopped at a red light where my mom turned to me and calmly said “Okay”. I was signed up the same day which began my journey into the improv world.

What has the journey been like for you?

I think I’ve come a long way in improv. It’s not just me seeing how loud I can yell. I still get the same magic chill up my spine when I hit that line or make that connection with my scene partner. I’m in The Assembly now where I’m learning long form and it’s a different beast for sure!

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

I’d say as an improvisor producing the show Zero Hour Improv. We’re celebrating the two year anniversary in July so I’m very excited. It’s been a long process finding out the best way to do the format of the show. I have redefined my relationship as the host. I remember having only three troupes on it. We fit in short form games in between the troupes. It did okay. Now I book 10 troupes on it. No games! It’s really become a place where the troupes always have an audience. There is no chance of failure. We had a guy spit into another guy’s mouth during the last show .The audience loved it. My hosting skills have also improved. I finally learned that I didn’t need costumes or elaborate openings. I just need to be myself and that’s enough. I truly feel like I’m my best self when I’m hosting that show.

That’s amazing! How did you come up with the idea for Zero Hour Improv?

Zero Hour Cover Pic

Two years ago, I was doing a Star Wars-themed show, which premiered on May 4. We got through two shows. The final show in July everything went wrong. There were actors that couldn’t make it because of fringe. The poster person dropped out on me. It was a disaster! I was thinking of dropping the show but Isabel Kanaan told me that I should just invite some improv troupes and play some games. I thought that was a way better idea than just cancelling.  I invited three troupes to play on the show. My mom made the poster. The only thing was to name the show. I wanted to name it after the fact that it was put on at the last moment. I thought it was “Zero Hour”. However ,it was later pointed out to me that what I was really thinking of was the “Eleventh Hour.” I later looked up what Zero Hour meant. It’s defined as “The time at which a usually significant or notable event is scheduled to take place.“ I thought it fit pretty well. Did I mention we’re celebrating two years on July 4? Thank you, Isabel!

Any favourite scenes?

Oh boy! This is one of my favourite scenes I’ve ever done. I’m playing Hitler (no relation, of course!). I’m upset because Germany is not seen as the most evil country in the world. My partner asked, “What was the most evil country in the world?” What could really be more evil than Nazi Germany? I pondered a moment. For whatever reason I picked…Canada.

My partner burst out laughing. “Canada?! What could Canada have done to be worse then us?!” he asked and to be honest I didn’t know the answer.

“You don’t know?” I replied, hoping to think of an answer.

“No, I don’t,” he replied.

I was racking my brain on what to say then I had it. “Have you ever heard of residential schools?” I said and the class lost it. I had worked my way out of a corner in a realistic way. It was thrilling to write myself into a corner and get out of it on the spot. Only improv could give me that.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

I think the biggest impact improv has had on my life is that it gave me a community of great friends in Toronto. The move to Toronto was a bit scary and lonesome. When I got into the Second City Conservatory, it brought a lot of great people into my life. I owe so much to that class. It’s where I met the members of my sketch troupe, Live Dudes (check out their YouTube channel!). Who knows where I’d be without those guys? I definitely wouldn’t have a cow costume in my closet.

Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

I had a piece of my jaw taken out to correct my under-bite. Sometimes in scenes I won’t be able to pronounce because my jaw just can’t move fast enough. I’ve learned to embrace that, make it a part of my character and maintain it throughout a scene. It’s always great overcoming something like that.

Where can we see you on stage?

You can see me at Zero Hour Improv every first Wednesday of the month. Our next show is July 4 at Comedy Bar. It’s going to be a loaded show and my dad is coming out from Winnipeg. He’s a fan. You can get tickets here!

Awesome! Thank you, Tyler, and happy two-year anniversary to Zero Hour Improv!

Improv is for anyone

30167295_10210110921643200_4747901798983685307_o
Shreya Patel (left) started improvising in January of 2017. She says pursuing improv has changed her life.

As Shreya Patel says, improv is for anyone. And she’s right. Before boarding the improv train last year, I never did any kind of performing. Hell, I never even imagined myself getting on stage. But getting into improv has been one of the best things I have ever done. Then again, I don’t do much.

Anyways, let’s meet Shreya, a model-turned-actress-improviser-and-filmmaker living in Toronto. She recently directed a documentary called Girl Up, aimed at raising awareness of domestic violence, human trafficking and social injustice. In addition to acting and improvising, she is also a mental health advocate and can be seen in this year’s Bell Let’s Talk campaign.

Disclaimer: Shreya is a friend of mine. We did classes together at Second City and we’re members of the same troupe, Coffee Breath. But she’s cool. Really cool. Here’s what she had to say.

How did you get into improv?

I was dealing with anxiety due to the negative environment at my workplace and I really needed a laugh which is when I decided to sign up for improv classes at Second City. It was something I always wanted to try and the time was right. I knew that taking my first improv class would keep me on my feet and help me be present in the moment which was hard to do at the time.

What has the journey been like for you?

The journey has been incredible. The teachers. The community. The people. When I first started my improv classes, I didn’t realize how addicted I would get to it or how far I would come. I am so grateful every day to the day I decided to do improv and signed up.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

I heard from teachers and peers that the Second City conservatory program is hard to get into. I was just finishing up Level E and didn’t think I was ready to audition so I didn’t sign up. On the last day of class, two days before the audition, our teacher Matt Folliott mentioned that if you audition and don’t get in, you will get good feedback for the future. I emailed to find out if any spots were still available and they squeezed me in with a group for the audition. I went to it stress-free because I was convinced I will be required to audition again and was there for just for the notes. I remember having the most fun on stage due to feeling no pressure. A couple of weeks later, I got an acceptance letter to the program. The feeling was incredible.

Any weird moments or scenes?

Oh, yes. I was performing at Comedy Bar with a great bunch of people and we did a pad set (a pad set is an audience-driven format, where improvisers come up with different premises based on audience suggestions). We got on stage and it got really weird. The premise involved Demi Lovato’s evil pants. I’m not kidding.  I played Demi Lovato, and two of my team members became my pants, one side each. One member became Owen Wilson and tried to save me from my pants.

How has improv made an impact on your life?

Improv has changed my life. My anxiety has healed and the amount of amazing people I have met on this journey is incredible. I am more involved in the community and I perform or watch improv shows every week. My ideal weekend is watching a show at Bad Dog Theatre or Comedy Bar, and hanging out after with everyone in the community.

If there’s one rule of improv that stuck with me, it’s that okay to make mistakes. Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

Yes, there are many times as improvisers that we mess up on stage and we gotta know that it is okay. My Conservatory teacher Alastair Forbes gave us the best advice: If you are not having fun on stage, you are not doing it right! It really stuck with me and now every time I hit the stage, I always ask myself, how can I have the most fun right now and do that.

Where can we see you on stage?

We are putting up a show almost every second week at Second City for conservatory program and trying out new premises to see if it works. Our main show is on October 20 at 1pm at the Second City main stage. I will also be soon performing with my class at The Assembly Improv. Dates are getting finalized soon. For dates to the shows, follow @imshreyapatel.

Is there anything you want to add?

Improv isn’t just for actors. Improv is for anyone. I recommend it to anyone from all different backgrounds. It’s an excellent way to meet like-minded people, improve your mental health, build communication skills, have fun and…most importantly…laugh. Brighten up your day with some comedy. Do self-care. Do you.

Thanks, Shreya! You heard her, folks. Improv is definitely for anyone. Now go do some improv. Seriously.

There’s no place like improv…I mean, home

BBB_5893
For more than 30 years, Velvet Duke has been doing improv. He says one of the main benefits is the opportunity to connect with others. Photo credit: Brent Robichaud

When I first got into improv last year, one thing that struck with me was the inspiring and supportive community that I found myself exposed to. Over the past year, I met a range of talented improvisers who continue to support each other.

One of them was Velvet Duke, an improviser and singer based in Toronto. Velvet started performing 30 years ago and hasn’t looked back. We caught up about his journey navigating through the improv community and how he sought to even further empower the community with some awesome shows.

How did you get into improv?

My high school theatre arts teacher introduced improv as one component of his curriculum. After that, I had an opportunity to go to school for programming or acting. I loved programming but didn’t think I would like it as a job. I took a year of theater in college and found it didn’t satisfy the way improv had.

Improv is the more interesting art form because you can throw yourself into the moment and each show offers different moments.

What has the journey been like you?

It has been a lifelong journey with some of my greatest joys and friendships, and some of my deepest woes.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment as an improviser?

Being thanked for some of my show formats — they were designed to uplift the community and that has seemed to have worked.

That’s amazing that you produced your own shows for the community. Can you tell me more about that?

It was new to me. I’m used to creating things but to have people thank me was really humbling.

Anyways, INTERSECTION was created to offer more stage time to diverse performers. It gives us a chance to see ourselves together as a group rather than one or two per show. It also brings in an audience that reflects that diversity.

Tough Love was part personal workshop and part show, where a featured performer could work through some of their bad habits. It was fun while it lasted and may come back.

The Sampler was a competition format that had performers working against strict timings to develop their skills for delivering and polishing material on demand.

What inspired you to produce these shows?

Initially I would look to see what I felt was a missing format in the communal landscape. Of the three though, INTERSECTION is the one I am proud of yet most similar to other shows. It isn’t the first show of its type — but there was still a hunger for it in the community.

Also, I love improv too much not to have things on the go.

What has the feedback been like?

Each sought to bring the community together. INTERSECTION often has the performers and audience talking after the show, continuing their personal stories.

Also, I’ve had professional performers unable to be part of the project thank me for creating it for the sake of the community.

That’s awesome. Anyways, back to you, my friend. Any weird moments or scenes that you can share?

I remember engaging with the audience at a Harry Potter themed show at Comic-Con. A little boy decided he was a very deadly potion but he also had the cutest giggle. At another Comic-Con show, a young woman decided she was a dragon. They were as invested as the performers!

How has improv made an impact on your life?

  • Finding the “yes” in seemingly difficult situations
  • Bringing humour to tense situations
  • Being able to empathize and connect with others
  • Being able to face down fears, to act through it
  • The joys of spending hours (okay, years) performing and talking about a shared passion
  • The friendships

If there’s one rule of improv that stuck with me, it’s that okay to make mistakes. Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and how you rolled with it?

Once I coughed from the sidelines and that led me to be endowed as a sickly wife being used as blackmail to keep the husband working the smithy.

Also, I’ve developed aphasia and I already speak faster than I think, so I have made many unintended offers. Happy accidents!

Where can we see you on stage?

I perform across Toronto with my troupes The Dandies and OverDude. Also, I guest on shows at The Social Capital Theatre, Comedy Bar, Bad Dog Theatre, and regularly at the QAPD Collective, Toronto’s weekly LGBTQ open mic show, at Pegasus on Church.

 Is there anything you want to add or anything you want me to plug?

Learn everything you can by watching shows and taking classes but also hold on to your unique style, interests and, especially your weirdness.

Shows to plug:

INTERSECTION – the joys and struggles of Canadian life (next: June 6)
Diverse storytelling comedy show – 1st Wednesday of every month at The Social Capital

Holodeck Follies (next: June 9)
Spontaneous Star Trek and variety comedy show. 2nd Saturday of every month at Comedy Bar

Thanks for sharing, Velvet! Also, make sure you like his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter!