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.


Thank you for sharing your story, Samara!