Pushing past your fears through improv

FoxTrap (2)
“It’s been an exhilarating journey learning to push past my own fears and perfectionism,” says actor and improviser Samara Stern, pictured left with fellow improviser Dana Puddicombe on the right. Photo credit: Peter Stelmach

When Samara Stern started pursuing improv, she learned rather quickly that it’s okay to make mistakes. “It taught me that I can make mistakes and it will be okay,” she says. “The world won’t end. That lesson has helped me take bigger risks in my acting, writing and personal life.”

Samara, a Toronto-based actress, turned her talents to improv in 2013. Now, she teaches improv at Second City’s Education Company and summer camp. “It feels really good to be giving back to the community by helping kids express themselves and take creative risks,” she says.

Here’s what Samara had to say about her journey in improv.

How did you get into improv?

Throughout the years, my teachers and friends encouraged me to enrol at Second City. I really love script analysis and so the idea of going on stage without knowing the guideposts of the scene was really scary to me.

While I knew I was funny in the way I interacted with the world, I didn’t think I could be intentionally funny. I took Foundations 1 at Bad Dog Theatre in 2013 and loved it. I turned my focus to screenwriting for awhile but then signed up for Improv for Actors at Second City in 2016. With no expectation that I would get in, I auditioned for the Second City Conservatory. All I knew was that I was having fun and wanted to keep having fun. I was accepted into the Long Form Improv Conservatory and have been hooked on the art form ever since.

What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

It’s been an exhilarating journey learning to push past my own fears and perfectionism. I used to constantly second guess and judge myself. I learned quickly that there is no time for those negative thoughts because by the timeline is out of your mouth, you are already in the next moment of the scene. One of the core principles of improv is support so I know that whatever idea I throw out on stage, my scene partner will support it.

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

I am in the improv troupe Abra Cadaver which has been rehearsing and performing together for over two years. That’s like a marriage in improv years! I am proud of the way we always find something new and exciting to play.

Haha. I love the name Abra Cadaver. How did you come up with it?

Abra Cadaver was a Second City grad team formed out of the long form Improv conservatory so likely the name was created by Rob Norman or Martha Stortz.

Do you have any favourite moments or scenes?

It was an absolute blast playing with so many of my improv heroes in The Harold Experience at the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

That’s awesome! Who are your improv heroes?

The Harold Experience was a masterclass in improv. I could watch Ken Hall, Paloma Nuñez, Ashley Botting, Matt Folliot, Becky Johnson, Adam Cawley, and Rob Baker forever so it was a huge thrill to work with them. Rob Norman directed the show. He was my teacher in terms one and two of the Longform Conservatory so it was wonderful to work with him again.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

The greatest gift I’ve gotten from improv is the consistent practice of putting myself out there without being attached to the outcome. That has translated to all aspects of my life. It’s one thing to say you are confident. It is another thing to practice, fail, and learn in your bones that no matter what situation you are in, you can handle it.

One of the fundamental rules of improv is that it’s okay to make mistakes. Can you tell me about a time that you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

I was able to audition for the Second City Conservatory with a theatre degree but had never previously performed in an improv show. My first show was after my first conservatory class and my scene did not go well. I am so grateful for that experience because it taught me that I can make mistakes and it will be okay. The world won’t end. That lesson has helped me take bigger risks in my acting, writing and personal life.

What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into improv?

There are so many beginner and drop-in classes that you can try. In fact, Second City has an Improv for Anxiety course. My experience was that the only way to push past the worst case scenario voice was to practice going outside of my comfort zone in a safe, supportive environment

Where can we see you on stage?

I perform regularly with Abra Cadaver. Dana Puddicombe and I host the Fresh Start improv jam at The Social Capital Theatre on the first Monday of every month as our duo FoxTrap!

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

I had a blast playing Alex in the web series Wholesome Foods I Love You… Is That Okay?, which is streaming on Amazon Prime US/UK, YouTube, Stareable, SeekaTV and www.wfily.com.

In 2014, I wrote a short film that screened at film festivals and am currently writing the second draft of a feature film.

www.samarastern.com
www.instagram.com/samarastern

Thank you for sharing your story, Samara!

Creating something out of nothing is as good as it gets

16487903_1839799172951034_462564679344348028_o
“Improv has made an enormous impact on my life,” says Joe Amero. “It changed my entire way of thinking and dealing with people.”

For Joe Amero, a social worker turned improviser, his biggest accomplishment is pursuing his dream of getting into comedy. “Walking out there with nothing and creating something funny or sweet or brilliant or whatever with someone is as good as it gets,” he says. “It’s pure joy.”

Joe started improvising three years ago. Born and raised in Toronto, he lives in Hamilton with his family and commutes to Toronto for work and for improv. He notes that his commute is filled with podcasts, reflective thoughts and endless tears. Here’s what Joe had to say about his journey in improv and what he has gotten out of it.

How did you get into improv?

When my wife was pregnant with our first daughter, I took her to see a live performance of Night of the Living Dead at Theatre Passe Muraille for her birthday. After the show we were walking and talking about life and it hit me, that’s what I wanted to do!  After all the years of studying and paying my dues in the social services field, I forgot about my first love: comedy! Here we are talking about how we’re going to teach our kids to follow their dreams, and I’m just completely sidetracked doing what I needed to get by instead of what I truly wanted to be happy. The next day we were walking through Trinity Bellwoods Park and I found a tiny flyer for classes at Second City Toronto on a lamp post. It was a sign, literally, so I looked them up online. At the very last second, I chickened out and pushed the button for the comedy writing program since I had zero improv experience and figured I could check it out safely from there. I loved everyone I met there and would check out the long-form shows after every class. I was hooked!  As soon as I finished the writing program, I signed up for improv level A and there was no turning back.

What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

The journey for me has been completely amazing so far. I’ve studied with the best instructors, formed a troupe that has trained and failed and failed and succeeded together. We’ve travelled to festivals and had our own monthly show. I’ve made great friends whom I would have never otherwise even met and we’ve laughed and shared and created and played together. Plus, we’ve gotten to be a part of The Assembly since the very beginning!

That’s awesome! Can you tell us more about your troupe?

My improv troupe Pepperoni Pizza Cats was born in the long-form conservatory at Second City. We soon started our own monthly show, stuck together after graduation, and have played in festivals in Toronto, Detroit and New York City.  We voted on the name, I lost, and I’m glad I did because people seem to love it as much as I have grown to. Pizza Cat is one of those things on the void that is the internet that makes zero sense, yet says it all, and is just for fun, which suits us perfectly.

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

My biggest accomplishment as an improviser is becoming one in the first place. Walking out there with nothing and creating something funny or sweet or brilliant or whatever with someone is as good as it gets. It’s pure joy.

Do you have any favourite scenes?

One of my favourite moments so far was at a workshop with Mick Napier.  He said, “Improvising is the least important thing you will ever do in your whole life, or at least it should be.”

Great perspective!  At break time, he told me I was pretty funny and I said, “Thanks! So are you.” He laughed.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

Improv has made an enormous impact on my life. It changed my entire way of thinking and dealing with people. I don’t get the same anxiety I used to (I get a different anxiety but I know how to use it for fuel) and I look forward to every day and every situation to see what crazy shit will happen next. I’m more curious about the world and how different people see it in different ways. I’ve also drank the Kool-Aid and I’m sure people see me as a proud improv nerd.

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

I remember a scene with my homie Bradley Tingle where one of us, or maybe both of us, messed up our word right off the top. We just dug in deep and did a whole scene that seemed to make perfect sense to us and the audience, in complete jibberish. It was awesome!

Where can we see you on stage?

I play as much as I can on my own at people’s shows in Toronto at The Social Capital Theatre and Bad Dog Theatre, where I’m currently studying. I’m on a house team in The Assembly called Pepperoni Pizza Cats and we play those shows all the time at SoCap, Comedy Bar and Cahoots Theatre. I also volunteer for Funnies For Families and so should you!

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

The Pepperoni Pizza Cats Show is the 3rd Wednesday of EVERY month at The Social Capital Theatre (3rd Floor/PWYC!).

Thank you for sharing your story, Joe!

Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire

IMG_0239
“Mistakes can be a beautiful thing in improv. We just need to learn to accept and embrace them,”  says Alia DeSantis, a Toronto-based actress and improviser.

When Alia DeSantis was younger, her mother had taped a note to their mirror that said “Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”

It’s a common adage (sadly, a two-minute Google search didn’t identify who first coined it) that inspires us to find something that excites us, that sets our soul on fire, and to pursuit it relentlessly.

Anyways, let’s meet Alia, a Toronto-based actress and improviser, who knew since she was a child that she wanted to become a performer. “When [my mother] found out I wanted to be an actress, she set the note on fire,” Alia said while laughing. “Just kidding! My mother suggested I become a doctor when I grow up. My response? ‘Why be a doctor when I can play a doctor?'”

How did you get into improv?

I did a little improv in my high school drama class, but only really got involved with it when I was at Humber College. Like many improvisers, I grew up watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? and was completely enthralled by it. I’ve always been drawn to comedy, but improvisation held a special place in my heart. I find the whole thing very surreal but in the best way possible.

What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

It has been an incredible journey thus far, and it’s only just the beginning! I’m still fairly new to the scene, but have absolutely fallen in love with performing, and hope to be doing it for a long time to come. I’ve been very fortunate and have had the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented people on some insanely fun shows. I’ve only been performing for about two and a half years, but the amount I have been able to do, and the amount I’ve grown as a performer and as an individual is immeasurable.

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

I’d have to say my biggest accomplishment would be BOOZE CLUES, a monthly show I produce. There have definitely been other shows I’ve been a part of which I would consider to be huge milestones, but nothing compares to this. This is the first time I’ve ever created, produced and performed in the same show, and the whole experience has been eye-opening. To say it’s a lot of work would be an understatement, and I’m probably greying early from the stress of it all, but it has been such an insane process and so unbelievably worth it. I get to perform with my favourite people in a show I love and hold very near and dear to my heart. It’s like a dream come true, and next month we have Colin Mochrie joining us, so it literally will be a dream come true!

Do you have any favourite scenes?

All of them! Haha. I find it way more fun to be weird and absurd. I’ve played an animated broom, a male pirate, velociraptors (yes, more than once), Josh Murray’s father as a literal helicopter, and the groundhog from Groundhog Day. Recently however a very unusual thing happened to me on stage. Somehow in the course of the set I had cut my knee and it started to bleed pretty bad. I was oblivious to it, and continued to power through although I’m sure everyone in the audience was cringing. Tom Hearn was playing my son, and he had been killed in a zombie attack, (but not by a zombie, by Amanda Parker who was playing a visually impaired sniper). Cameron Algie and I laid on top of Tom in a Disney-like fashion to bring him back to life, and in the course of it all my blood ended up getting all over Tom’s arm. When he noticed I thought for sure he was going to pass out or puke on stage. The whole thing was absolutely bonkers, and the audience was going crazy. Tom and I have never been closer as we now share a blood pact.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

Improv has had such an incredibly positive impact on my life, and I honestly can’t imagine where I would be or who I would be without it. Some of my closest friends are ones I met through performing, and not only do they play big roles in my life, they have also shaped the person I am today. Improv is a great source of joy, laughter and creativity, and I am so fortunate to be part of such a special community.

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

I did a BeerProv show a while back, and made it to the final four (meaning I had to do a hoedown). For anyone who watches Whose Line?, it’s the exact same as they do in the show. You’re given a suggestion from the audience, and you have sing and rhyme eight bars worth of music. I really enjoy doing hoedowns, even though it feels like your heart and brain will explode in the seconds leading up to it. This particular time I had come up with the most perfect rhyme and was so ready for my part. However, when I opened my mouth to sing, what came out wasn’t English. It was like my brain malfunctioned, and every letter of the alphabet came out at once. I tried to power through it, but just kept spewing jibberish. Finally, I broke and started to laugh on stage. The audience got quite a kick out of it all too. Instead of allowing that situation to defeat me, I took a deep breath, waited for the song to cue up again and began to sing. Sure, I looked like a goof, but I had a great time and was able to laugh it off. Mistakes can be a beautiful thing in improv. We just need to learn to accept and embrace them.

Where can we see you on stage?

I perform monthly (2nd Friday of every month) in BOOZE CLUES at Bad Dog Theatre.

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

YES! BOOZE CLUES at Bad Dog Theatre is coming up on Friday, August 10th. We have Colin Mochrie joining us, and we will be donating all the proceeds to Rainbow Camp. It will be wonderful evening full of laughter and love, supporting both live comedy and the LGBTQ+ community.

Tickets are $15 and available at: www.baddogtheatre.com/booze-clues

More info:
Facebook : www.facebook.com/boozeclues.to
Instagram: @boozeclues.to

Thank you for sharing your story, Alia!

The magic of improv

37573098_10217032088021209_2047960017277026304_n
“Some days just going into a theatre is a huge accomplishment. Sometimes just putting on pants is a huge accomplishment. It’s all relative,” improviser Dan Frampton, pictured right, said. Photo credit: Brent Robichaud

As Toronto improviser Dan Frampton says, “I couldn’t have found a better thing to have in my life.”

I could not agree more. For me, improv has been like a fun and awesome but unpredictable friend, who forces me out of my comfort zone. “Hey dude, we should get up on stage together. And you should get down on the stage floor like a rat. It will be funny,” improv would say to me. You may be scared initially of hanging out with your friend named Improv, but you learn to love him.

Anyways, let’s meet Dan, who recently graduated from the improv programs at Second City and The Assembly. He’s also a singer, songwriter and vocalist with his band, The Dean Project, which he describes as an acoustic spoof act that satirizes music culture. They toured the country with their makeshift drum, a three-foot-tall plastic nutcracker named Munchie.

Disclaimer: Dan and I were classmates together at Second City. He’s a friend and he’s awesome. Here’s what he had to say about his journey in improv.

How did you get into improv?

Unfortunately, this is where the story takes a bit of a dark turn. While driving home from a show in Peterborough, we were hit by a transport truck. My best friend, and namesake of the group, Dean, didn’t survive the wreck. The five years that followed were the hardest years I could imagine having. It took much soul searching and episodes of Frasier for me to realize what I needed in this new life of mine.

Then one day, I started thinking, “Hey, just do improv. The Dean Project was just an untrained musical improv troupe. Just learn this fer realz.” So, I dropped into Second City and the romance began.

I’m so sorry to hear about your friend. What has the journey been like for you after getting started in improv?

It’s actually been so fucking crazy. Life-changingly crazy. I find that improv fucks with my head in so many beautiful ways. One day, in one scene, a concept makes total sense. It works! Yay, laughs! The next day, in a new scene, that concept ruins everything. Boo, no laughs! The learning, I feel, is all in the play. The “rules” don’t dictate what’s good. That immediate response from the audience tells you what’s good. And I love that! That constant discovery is what keeps me going.

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

Some days just going into a theatre is a huge accomplishment. Sometimes just putting on pants is a huge accomplishment. It’s all relative.

I totally agree. Just putting on pants is an achievement for me. Do you have any favourite scenes?

I was doing a jam at The Social Capital. My character was a waiter. Every offer made him need to pee more. Halfway through the scene my nose actually started bleeding, giving my character the motivation to run to the bathroom. I yelled “I can’t work anymore” and ran to the actual bathroom. To this day, the SoCap 3rd floor stage has a bit of Dan Frampton DNA soaked into it. Totally gross, man!

How has improv made a difference in your life?

It’s a whole new life. I couldn’t have found a better thing to have in my life. I truly love improv. I love warm-ups. I love short form games. I love classes and drop-ins. I’m in love with long form. But to me, it’s all about the community and the shows! I’m often not the best in social scenarios and the politics of the scene sometimes really fuck with me. Those are things that I’m always working on. I’m endlessly thankful to have a community where I get to work on some shit with.

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

I’d say my improv style consists of only mistakes and trying to dig myself out.

Where can we see you on stage?

I’m not playing on many stages these days. Mainly because “improv audition” is a major oxymoron to me. It bends my brain in many unnatural ways. Improv is an in- the-moment experience. It lives and dies simultaneously. To bring that to a panel of judges seems unfair me. I’ll be going to events that I see posted online. While there, I’ll be doing my best to make friends. If there’s a jam, I’ll likely play. That is unless I don’t like the host!

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

I’m producing my very first show on August 16 at The Social Capital Theatre. The Social Capital has been a very important to me. It’s my improv home. It’s a magically place to me. I wish Ralph MacLeod and Carmine Lucarelli, the owners, knew how much I love and appreciate them. It means the world to me to have my show up on their stage.

It’s an experimental long form format that I came up with and want to try. It’s called Total Fucking Chaos. I’m hosting it in my Dean Project persona with our resident nutcracker, Munchie. It’s going to be a mix of all my favourite things. Punk rock, pro wrestling and long form improv. Be there!

Another disclaimer: I will be performing in Dan’s show, Total Fucking Chaos, so you should really check it out. 

Thank you so much for sharing, Dan! Improv has definitely become one of the best things in my life and I don’t know what I would do without it.

Taking the leap onto the stage

Laura-improv
I never saw myself as the type of person who could be comfortable and have fun on stage, let alone love it as much as I do,” improviser Laura Stricker said. Photo credit: Marko Bezic (Toronto_Improv Instagram)

The first time I performed on stage, I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. But I took the leap regardless, performing in a scene where I played an angry guy trying unsuccessfully to get fired from his job (fictional, of course!). It was silly…but I loved it. Now, I get up on stage every chance I get.

Anyways, let’s meet Laura Stricker, an improviser based in Toronto, who recently took the leap as well. Laura started pursuing improv last year after wanting to branch out and get out of her comfort zone. Now, she has graduated from Second City’s improv program and she is currently taking classes at The Assembly. Laura opened up about how she got into improv, how her journey is going so far and how she conquered her fears of performing on stage.

How did you get into improv?

My start in improv was due to a rather serendipitous series of events. In December of 2016, I was feeling down for several reasons. I thought getting involved in an activity would help cheer me up. I’d taken baking classes and gone to the Toronto Sport and Social Club. I wanted to try something new but had no idea what that could be.

I was on Twitter one day when I saw a tweet from someone mentioning how much they loved taking improv at Second City. That piqued my interest but also terrified me. I’m a pretty quiet person, so the thought of standing up in front of a bunch of strangers and making up scenes on the spot made me feel ill. I went to the Second City site to read more about the classes – and discovered they offer Improv for Anxiety. It seemed like the perfect way to give improv a try in a supportive environment. I signed up that day and got the last spot in Cameron Algie‘s class. Luckily I only had about a week to be a ball of anxiety before classes began!

What has the journey been like for you?

The journey has been incredible. I never saw myself as the type of person who could be comfortable and have fun on stage, let alone love it as much as I do. I’ve met many amazing people through improv and it has also benefitted me in pretty much every aspect of my life.

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

My biggest accomplishment so far has been conquering my fears of performing on stage. When I think back to the first time I performed – in front of maybe 10 people in my classroom at Second City – to now, the difference is amazing.

Any favourite scenes?

I was in a show in May and we did a fun scene about “floor people” versus “chair people.” (I was a chair person) Another that comes to mind is a radio play about missing fish, an evil and mysterious stranger stealing all the fish, and characters with video game names.

How has improv made a difference in your life?

I’m a lot less anxious, more comfortable speaking up and giving presentations at work, and much happier with life in general. Friends who have known me forever also comment on how much more confident I seem since starting improv. Before getting involved in improv I had no idea there was such a great scene in Toronto, with so many talented and hilarious people. Going to improv shows is now one of my favourite things to do.

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

Nothing specific is coming to mind, but I know there are times when my tongue works faster than my brain and what I say makes absolutely no sense. I don’t see it as messing up, because those mistakes often lead to delightful scenes. Pretty much all of my teachers tell us to not be afraid to try things and fail big, which is great advice for improv AND life.

Where can we see you on stage?

You can see me next in Assembly Tuesdays at The Social Capital Theatre on July 31 at 9:30 p.m.

Is there anything else you would like to add or anything you would like to plug?

If you’re considering giving improv a shot but are scared, just go for it! Everyone I’ve met in the community is really supportive. Taking that leap and facing my fears is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

Thank you so much for sharing, Laura! You’re absolutely right. If you’re interested in improv (and why wouldn’t you be?), go for it and take the leap.

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!

The courage to take risks

Swipe Right Melissa Dana Derek Gina
Melissa Holman-Kursky started improvising almost 20 years ago. “It’s given me a home and community,” she said. “It’s given me courage to take risks and to be resilient in the face of failure.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from improv, it’s the courage to take risks. The courage jump into situations that may scare you. I remember one scene where two of my scene partners were talking about a rat in their home. So, I decide to jump in the scene as the rat (basically, I just crawled on the floor the entire time).

Anyways, let’s meet Melissa Holman-Kursky, an improviser, coach and festival producer from San Francisco. Melissa is part of the artistic team behind Un-Scripted Theater Company in downtown San Francisco. She is also the co-founder and executive producer of the West Coast Musical Improv Festival. We caught about up about how she got into improv and how it gave her the courage the take risks…and her husband!

How did you get into improv? 

It was actually an awesome lesson in what can happen when you fail. I had never thought of doing improv in my life. I was a freshman at Tufts University right outside Boston. I was a drama major and mainly interested in scripted theatre and musicals – but to my abject horror (ah, the drama of being 18!), I wasn’t cast in the university’s department show that fall. I had seen the improv troupe Cheap Sox perform, and thought they were amazing, but didn’t think I could possibly do what they did. But, I was in such a fatalistic mood over not being cast that I decided, “What the heck – another rejection won’t kill me,” and signed up for auditions. The longest break I’ve taken from improv since then – 1999 –  was for about three months, when my son was born.

What has the journey been like for you? 

Rewarding. Challenging. Almost never boring. Filled with some of the greatest friends and cast mates one could ever hope to meet. Serendipitous in many ways – I feel like people took chances on me all along the way that have led to some amazing opportunities.

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

Oh man, that’s a tough one! Right now, I’m super proud of the publicity that a show I created, Swipe Right, has gotten in the past couple of years. We set out to tell truthful, diverse stories of all kinds of people – not just heteronormative, cisgendered ones – searching for connections, and have had an overwhelmingly positive response. That’s been a priority for Un-Scripted in general, and I’m proud of the kind of work we’re doing.

Any weird moments or scenes? 

You mean onstage or in my everyday life? 🙂 I’ve had a few weird favourite shows and characters, like my improvised teen goth radio show at ImprovBoston, but most recently I was really pleased to be recognized by a past audience member…for playing a singing llama about 8 years ago. It’s funny what sticks for some people!

How has improv made an impact on your life? 

In every way. Just every way. In the most literal sense, it’s given me a home and community throughout cross-country moves and every stage of life. It’s given me my husband, for that matter! It’s given me courage to take risks, to be resilient in the face of failure, it’s made me a better teacher and parent and hopefully the cognitive flexibility it provides is going to stave off dementia for a few extra years!

Oh wow! How did you meet your husband?

We actually met onstage at ImprovBoston. We performed in the same show every week starting in 2005. We finally confessed our feelings and started dating in 2008, to the apparent lack of surprise to everyone else, and have been together ever since. When we left Boston and moved across the country to San Francisco, we knew it was unlikely that we’d be cast together again anytime soon. Happily, that wasn’t the case, and Un-Scripted eventually asked us both to come on as ensemble members and as members of the staff that runs the theatre. Now we have a four-year old son, but we’ve managed to keep improv as a major part of our lives. Our son even slept in a baby carrier on my chest for some rehearsals. He has this wonderfully skewed view of what adults are like, as a result.

He is definitely going to become an improviser! Can you tell me about a time you’ve messed up on stage and just rolled with it?

I definitely steamrolled my way into a scene that I thought (from backstage) was calling for a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Came thundering out onstage, tiny hands, the whole shebang. They definitely had said “trucks.” Not T-Rex. Oops. Lots of people still regularly send me dinosaur memes.

Where can we see you on stage? 

Mostly at Un-Scripted in San Francisco, on and off throughout the year, though I travel to festivals as well! I’ll next be appearing with both Un-Scripted and the hilariously named Kickapoo Community Players at the West Coast Musical Improv Festival. Otherwise, if you really want to see me, you can take a class with me or bring me to your company. 🙂

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

Sure, thanks! Un-Scripted is 16 years old and runs a full season of improvised theatre – everything from full-length improvised plays and musicals to more traditional improv comedy. People can find us on Facebook and Instagram at @UnDashScripted. The West Coast Musical Improv Festival is about to have its third year from July 19th to 22nd. This year we’ll be bringing 13 troupes from across the country to perform and lead workshops over four days, and will have everything from hip hop to a cappella to a special musical version of Speechless!

Awesome. Thank you for sharing, Melissa!