Pop Goes Andrea

Exploring the potential in Plan A

PotentialPlan A.

For as long as I can remember, my true Plan A has always been performing and more specifically making people laugh. I was in my first school play at 11 and was pretty much involved in every school play after that, if possible. As I grew up the challenges of being an actress in this short, round, tubby, ethnically vague body became too daunting and I fell back into my other passion – writing.

I love writing. It is who I am. It is how I make a living. But writing was never Plan A. Writing was a safety net that I am kind of okay at and it has worked for me this far.

When I started taking improv classes I was flooded by the old ambition and passion of Plan A. I remembered how much fun it was to perform and create comedy with people on stage. I became an addict and took every possible class I could get my chubby little hands on. I have spent the last year of my life immersed in improv and trying to make my way back to stage.

Years after giving up Plan A, I feel this strong urge to see what happens if I put the hours into performing and producing that I have in writing. Will I find more than the mediocre success I have found in my career, so far? Or better yet, will I find that fulfillment in my work that I have been desperately searching for years.

With all the classes and the chance to learn from some amazing teachers, I felt my confidence grow. And my passion to perform completely outshines any self-consciousness that I feel about how I appear on stage. This is me… short, round, tubby, ethnically vague and totally accepting and owning that (thank you 31!).

Today was the last Notorious show with the whole crew before Mat and Ryan go off to Toronto. And I was actually choked up at the end. Watching these guys perform and grow together as a group has been not just  joyously hilarious but incredibly inspiring too. It felt incredibly special from the first time I saw them to tonight. And I am so inspired by Ryan and Mat’s gall to go so boldly toward their dreams. These are guys around my age who are giving up the stability of their lives and improv reputation to go to a city where they have to start all over again. They are fiercely going to chase down a dream. Something I have been dreaming of doing all my life. It is inspiring push for me to act on my Plan A.  

September is the start of the improv season and I am so excited to be involved in it. I want to push myself to learn more, feel more comfortable about performing and owning who I am on and off stage. I want to see what it is like to live in the life of Plan A and see where that takes me. I am feeling incredibly ambitious to contribute to Calgary’s improv scene and grateful for the opportunities to pursue my passion to do what I have always loved to do. Plan A! YAY!

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Saying goodbye to an improv inspiration…

Lil PainMat Mailandt has been a fixture in Calgary’s improv scene for years now. He was a senior member of the Improv Guild for years, a major contributor and promoter of the Improv Festival, one of the founding members of Obviously Improv and Notorious and arts educator in the city of Calgary for years. As much as I call myself an avid improv fan, I had actually not known of Mat until I happened upon a show he was in, in December of 2013. I remember so vividly seeing Notorious perform for the first time. Their energy filled the little black box Birds & Stone Theatre and I was hooked, instantly.

It is pretty insane how breaking my hermit routine and choosing to skip Dateline for a new improv show on this particular night changed the course of the year ahead. Shortly after seeing Notorious perform for the first time I saw that Mat was teaching a class and being such an insta-fan, I was totally on board. In fact in the last eight months I have taken numerous classes from Mat and by doing so, my hobby of taking improv classes has developed into a passion to perform and create on stage.

In the past I had put a lot of expectations on my improv skills because of the pedestal I place this favourite art form of mine on. My idols Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell all have improv background and I have been pining about Second City since I was 16 years old. With all this pressure I had built around improv in my head I had forgotten a crucial strength of a great improviser – joyful failing. Taking classes with Mat has reminded me of the joy and fun of doing improv and that failing is all a part of the dance.

I think without having met Mat my improv would have been stuck in the rut it had been in for the past four years. So today in my last classes with Mat, before heads of Toronto to do great things for the Canadian comedy scene, I was filled with gratitude to have learned from this talented and supportive teacher who has reminded me how much fun improv can be and has helped me find my way back to the stage and doing what I love.

The Calgary improv scene is going to be extremely different without Mat Mailandt and equally talented Ryan Hilderbrandt, as they head off to Toronto. It is sad to see them go but I know that they will go represent all the talent they have helped grow in this amazing improv community they are leaving behind. And we, as students and fellow colleagues of theirs, have the opportunity to put the lessons they have taught us and the joy they have instilled in us back into the improv scene here in Calgary. Mat & Ryan – thanks for lessons, laughs and the legacy you’ve left behind. We will be cheering you on from #yyc!

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Inspiration and improv found me at the Calgary Fringe Festival

NotoriousI have been facing a creative slump as of late, when it comes to my improv and comedy pursuits. But whenever I am feeling stuck or in a funk, I look down at my Eiffel Tower tattoo on my left arm. Everyone asks me about it and I have given an abbreviated explanation, “Going to the Eiffel Tower changed my life.” But the more accurate reasoning behind it is that the Eiffel Tower changed my perspective. After years of being miserable at the bottom of the barrel of my career and a personal battle with depression I got laid off from my job and found myself smack dab in front of this beautiful sparkling tower. In the middle of my tour, I went found a quiet place to look up at the tower and promise myself to never forget that no matter how rough life gets, moments like this will unexpectedly sweep into my life and bring in that joie de vivre – the joy of life.

As I said I have been feeling like I have been in a slump with improv these days and it should be anticipated because of the summer and shows and classes being few and far between. But even when I do have a chance to jam with people, I have been feeling a bit off and not as comfortable as I was feeling in the spring. I was not willing to quit though because I knew that around the corner would be that joy that improv and comedy had brought into my life. And this week after a class with one of my favourite longform improvisers, and a couple of really fun shows I checked out during the The Common Ground Festival and The Calgary Fringe Festival – I am feeling excited about telling stories and doing improv again!

Learning from Covy Holland of the Kinkonauts was a pretty exciting opportunity for me, not only because I have become a big fan over the last few months, but because Covy is a comedy geek like me and appreciates the same kind of styles that I do. I might not have had the greatest class but it got me excited to hear a new perspective on improv from someone as passionate and nerdy about it as I am. I really hope to get more opportunities to learn from Covy and fellow comedy geeks in the upcoming season.

On Saturday I took some friends to check out Five Dates at the Common Grounds Festival. Written, produced and starring my new improv friend, Shawn Hoult. It was a story about his first and last five dates he had as an awkward and nervous 19 year old in the ‘90s with an older girl who he was just unable to seal the deal with. The show was in a small black space, with two chairs, two talented actors and soundtrack I could identify with. It was vulnerable, quirky verging on awkward at times, funny and so honest. And it is cool to see people use at-the-time-traumatic moments to inspire a funny and engaging story. To me, that is art in its purest form.

Tonight I capped off my amazing long weekend with some Fringe Festival wonderfulness with my improv friend, Jocelyn. Jocelyn is another improve lover/geek who recommended we go check out Chase & Stacey’s Joyride before hitting up the Notorious Beer Garden.  The show was held in the Lantern Church in Inglewood and I really had no idea what to expect as I sat in a church pew and waited for the show to start. They had a hilarious musical opening number with singing, rapping and awful and funny dancing followed by longform improv and sketch comedy that had me close to tears it was so freaking hilarious. This show is playing again Friday and Saturday, so if you like laughing and stuff – check it out!

The night was capped off with my boyz, Notorious who have a sweet Fringe set up with their Pop-up Patio in Inglewood. I know how much work it took them to bring it all together with press, set up and doing solid sets for nine days in a row but the work has definitely paid off. They have had sold out shows every night and I was so happy to finally get to see it all come together myself tonight. My favourite thing about Notorious, besides their mad beats of course, is that you can see the respect they have for each other and their audience from start to finish. Their energy is engaging and it is just such a good time outside there with beer and pizza. If I could every day to Notorious Beer Garden, I would but I can’t because of work and stuff – so why don’t you go for me!

I am happy this week came around and reignited my passion to learn and create more in the Calgary Improv and comedy scene. I know a lot of cool stuff is coming up in the fall and I am so excited to work to contribute to this bustling comedic community because in my heart I know, this is where I find my Joie De Vivre!

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Good stuff lies on the other side

New CouchSince January of this year I have been going full force with attempting to create a life I truly love. There has been progress in my career and with my improv pursuits and for that I am grateful. It has brought out a passion for life that I was lacking for the past couple of years. I have been genuinely trying to positively contribute to every situation I am in and work really hard to make sure that as much as I am trying to get ahead in my own life, I am also supporting the people around me in any way I can.
In the last few weeks life has dealt some setbacks and discouraging situations, and my mission to stay positive has felt like a lot more work these days. In moments like these my worrying brain takes over and I want to quit. An example of this just came up in my life again this weekend and feels like a metaphor for my whole life. After more than a year of needing to replace my sagging in the middle, old couch, I finally bought a new one. I first had to work with my parents to get out the old saggy one. It is huge and my apartment is filled with weird corners, small doors and glasses elevators. As soon I realized how hard it would be to get this huge couch through my tiny apartment door, I wanted to give up. But my parents are secret geniuses and I am a secret brute because the short, round Marston clan sure as heck got that couch out to the dumpster. And today, we brought in my new lovely, non-sagging couch. Today not only do I have a new couch but I have a sense of accomplishment and a lesson learned.
After months and months of smooth sailing on the weight-loss, career and improv paths, I have now encountered a few disappointments and setbacks. And my worrying mind often thinks that it is easier to give up than to go through all the trouble and see what is on the other side. But then tonight I go to a show and I laugh that joyful full belly laugh that Notorious always inspires in me and I remember how much I love improv. I remember how much it ignites my soul and makes me feel alive and I want to fight through these weird times and pursue this thing I really love because my heart feels like what is on the other side could be even better than a new couch.

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Improv Life Lesson – Make the most of the present moment

The MomentI have been feeling really restless this week. Not to get into all the details about the twists and turns that have been popping up in my life these days but let’s just say, everything is just dangling up in the air. There are possibilities of some really cool things happening, everything staying exactly the same and of course the great unknown. And yet no clear answer has really fallen into place yet and I am lurking around in this weird limbo… feeling a wee bit stressed and out of sorts.

In the past, this kind of waiting game has driven me to make some pretty rash and stupid decisions. I react without taking a moment to breathe, I want to control the moments in between to work to my advantage and have consistently ended up effing things up. Today I realized this is also a problem, I am working through on stage with my improvisation.

Tonight during the class and show at Loose Moose Theatre, I saw that the scenes that really worked with some of the more experienced improvisers like Ryan Hilderbrandt, Shawn Kinley and North Darling – completely supported the reality of the scene and their partners at a pace that the audience was totally engaged with. The room left in the moments of silence added emotion, gave room for their partners to react and gave the audience time to digest the story. They made me realize that the key to really good pacing is to not worry about the next steps or the past mistakes but to fully immerse yourself into contributing to the reality of the present moment.

This was a lesson I needed to realize for improv and life… seriously people, improv has all the answers.

Love,

Improv’s most obsessive cult member

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My love has bloomed and the season has ended

lilacs

This past week was exhausting. I won’t bore you with all the gory details other than to say there were 12 hour work days, two very public falls on my well-cushioned tush and a high school tour vomit incident that may or may not have given me some kind of super flu bug. Through it all, I tried to use my improv rules of staying positive and contributing, and I think it was what helped me survive this hellish week.

The fact that I also knew there was a sweet improv light at the end of the tunnel, gave me something to look forward to. I had planned out my Saturday to include a lot of improv because I had to miss a week worth of great shows. So I signed up for a class taught by Shannon Manning from the glorious city of New York and planned to watch the Kinkonauts shows and go to the after party.

I woke up on Saturday with a hangover from too many celebratory gin and tonics, sore leg muscles from my questionable dance moves and the residual effects of the super flu bug. I was not really feeling high energy improv-Andrea surging through me but I was not going to let that stand in the way of my Improv Saturday!

Then I walked into that small black Birds & Stone church theatre, saw all my fellow hardcore improv addicts/classmates and met a new, delightful person who wanted to share her passion and perspective on improv – and I just felt relief flow through my body for the whole class. I was back home with improv, after a crazy week.

Thanks to the Kinkonauts and experimenting with other companies, my love for longform improv has grown immensely. I love how you as an improviser have a backline of fellow players to support the story and you. I love how elements of the story are brought in from different angles and perspectives but most of all, I love the sense of community that I feel when I know someone can tap me out when I am struggling or I can do the same for them.

Last night was the end of the season for the Kinkonauts and I am really quite devastated about it. I have really loved my experiences with this theatre company this past year and last night was a perfect example of what I love about them. The show was hosted by someone I am happy to call a friend, Jessica Belbin of the Kinkonauts house team Dream Toast. Jessica hosted in the character of a French Canadian and while it was a risky move, I think it paid off. She was engaging, hilarious and kept the energy up all night long.

The show opened with the Absolute Truth About Absolutely Anything. I watched this concept be developed during fan-girling of the Kinkonauts and I got to say yesterday I think they really nailed the format. Zac and Rob came out in hooded robes, to olden churchy music and a scroll. I love the complete nonsense facts they made about toasters, how the transitioned scenes by using their hoods and the absurdity of their scenes made it the best set I have seen by these guys.

Right before the main show started Beatdown, a Kinkonauts house team, performed. They had great energy and I thought they were really original with their character choices. As an avid student of longform, I am a really big fan of Beatdown’s transitions between scenes and confidence of when to sweep a scene. It is definitely something I am looking at working on, so I love watching troupes that do it well and Beatdown does.

Finally, the last show of the night was *sigh* wonderful. Almost as much as I love improv, I also love going out to listen to new live music. So the fact that the mainstage Kinkonauts show featuring live music from Boreal Sons alongside my sweet, sweet longform improv – pretty much spelled out a perfect night for me. The music was sweet and the scenes told stories I was totally engaged with. And all the stress from the prior week, just melted away, and enjoyed the moment.

The show was followed by Mixtape, which was wonderful as always, and opening for Mixtape a new dynamic duo of two of my favourites – Andrew Phung and Covy Holland – with Chiko. It was pretty cool to see Andrew’s high energy with Covy slow methodical, weirdness. I am excited to see more from these two.

The night ended with an epic party that I was dorkily excited to have been invited to, where I got to talk to people as madly in love with improv as I am. It was probably one of the best nights I have had in years!

I just want to thank the improv community so much for supporting this blog, my adventures in trying to get back on stage and just for overall enriching my human experience. You all have been dear to me these past 7 months. I am excited for a new season and hopefully being even more involved with you guys!

 

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Well, look who has grown up?

NotesTonight was a pretty special night for me.  I read notes that my friends and I wrote to each other and passed around in high school. Yup, I am old enough to know days before Facebook, text messaging and non-dial-up internet. We would tell each other anything (our hate for math class) and everything (details of how our crushes smiled at us, so they must like us – right?) in these notes that we would fold in a very intricate square shape.

Initially, Andrew Phung proposed the idea of reading my childhood diaries at Loose Moose to inspire scenes for his Past Your Bedtime Show, I was beyond excited because it came merely weeks after I had watched Mortified Nation on Netflix. The documentary is about a show that travels around the world, where adults read from their melodramatic teenage diaries. Well I was a great candidate for such a show because I had 51 journals that I poured my heart into from the ages of 11-18. So I ventured into my parent’s basement and dusted off my old journals to see if in those pages, lay comedy gold.

There was a big part of me that was terrified that I would read these journals and realize I have not changed at all. And at 31 turning 32, it is pretty vital in my opinion to experience some personal growth since my teen years. I am happy to report growth was achieved. I was an insecure, stroppy asshole as a teenager. I wanted nothing more than to fit in and I compromised myself to do so. I am not talking drugs or drinking, I was too much of a goodie good back then for that stuff, but just like not being great to people in order to make other like me and caring too much about what people thought about me. I hated my body and weird brown family for making me nothing like all the other girls. I would take all that stress out on my family and was probably sort of a nightmare to live with.

I am thrilled to tell you that 31 year old Andrea is nothing like that 15 year old girl. After years of trying to find my sitcom-like group of friends and being left ditched and disappointed, I realized the relationship with myself, was the one that I needed my focus. Igrew to love my uniqueness. I got to know myself. I know what makes me tick. I know what my downfalls are. I know what makes me laugh and how to make myself laugh. I know I am weird, quirky, short and round and I have grown a strong affection for myself… it may sound strange but life seems way more secure because of that.

I also have grown a true sense of gratitude for my family.  I was terribly ungrateful for them in my teen years and a lot of twenties too, I am sad to say. It is only now in the retrospect of these decades that I realize that they are my one true and constant support system and source of comedy material. They never fail to show up when I need them. I am so lucky to be a part of this resilient, funny and close-knit dysfunctional family.

Venturing back into those days of journals and notes turned out not just to be about an improv opportunity (which I was so grateful and excited about!) but it gave me a chance to give myself credit for how far I have come and how much I have grown up. To know that something positive came out of those melodramatic and sort hard days, kind of makes it all seem full circle in some weird way. My dream is to share the comedy from the pain and awkwardness of my past and inspire laughter and joy from it. That makes every moment, no matter how hard it was, worth it.

Today I read notes from when I was 15 at a theatre that I started obsessing about when I was 15… ha life is just so wickedly weird sometimes….

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Who needs self-help when you have improv?

Improv 1

If you read this thing, you probably know I am pretty culty and obsessive about the art of improvisation these days. My total consumption of said art has not just brought me pure and utter joy during my evenings and weekends at classes and shows, but it has immensely changed my attitude and energy in pretty much all aspects of my day. The lessons that improv carries about being positive, failing gracefuly, contributing and supporting your partner, have really given me the tools to let go of some old bad habits and create new effective ones. Getting the chance to work with different improvisers with different styles and levels of experience has helped me realize what can be created and accomplished when you walk into a situation enthusiastically, ego-free, ready to contribute and accepting that failure might happen.

I am a 31 year old nerd with a passion for comedy and performing but I by no means takes these classes and get up on the stage for any sort of fame or glory. I am totally encapsulated by improv for the last couple of months because I have got to meet good people, who just like me have a passion for comedy and cracking people up. I came for the good time, not the big time. I do improv and go see all these shows because it makes me feel good and alive and gives my favourite thing in the whole entire world… laughter. And if it ever loses that essence and becomes about one-up-manship and some vain attempt at glory, well then it would have lost its magic – and I love that magic too much to ever think of losing it.

Another weekend swept up in my improv addiction and yay for that!

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Punching fear right in the nads

photo (1)I am a natural born worrier. I worry about being late, about getting hurt or embarrassed, about doing a good job and about making the people around me happy – pretty much on daily basis for as long as I can remember. There has been countless times I let fear get in my head and definitely in my way and too often I have lived to regret it. For a long time that translated into stage fright and it stole too many years away from my passion for storytelling.

Since January, fueled by the promise and vigor of a new year, I decided to plainly and simply get the eff out of my own way when it came to my pursuits in improvising. I have wholehearted jumped right into every opportunity I have had to take a class and perform. Sure that nagging feeling of fear rises up as it always did but pushing through and getting lost in a story or a character, makes every fibre of my being feel alive. And after being a corporate zombie for a few years now, it is a refreshing feeling indeed.

For the past month of Sundays I have been taking a class with a group of women that has really helped me conquer my nerves and grow confident with what I can bring to a scene and how I can support my partner on stage. The tools given to me by my ballsy, badass teacher Laura Tennisco really showed me how to be a powerful, present performer on stage. My favourite lesson I have learned from her class is the “cardboard box theory” – an old Keith Johnstone technique requiring improvisers to act like they have been in a cardboard box all week awaiting an opportunity to be on stage (aka the story of my life these days).

Tonight I got to celebrate my love for improv and all that I have learned with my talented class with Laura. We opened the show up with high energy and few hits and misses and it was as always joyful to perform with these lovely ladies.  After us was a group of some my improv lady idols – Laura, the deeply talented and wonderfully grounded performer Renee Amber, the always hilarious Marie Boston and fresh from a stint with Second City *swoon* the ever engaging Lindsay Mullan. To even be associated in a show with these talented women was a huge thrill for this improv nerd! The night was awesome and made me fall even harder for improv!

If there is something that you are passionate about – like playing soccer, making music, cooking – and even if it does not pay your bills , make sure it plays a role in your life – no matter what common sense and all your worrying tells you. This is your life, so make it what you want it to be. And as for fear – punch that sucker right in the nads and get on with being happy.

 

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Full circle – my adventures in storytelling

storytelling

When I was younger than I can remember to put an age to, my father said that I would be a writer. He endowed me with a suggestion that I took on wholeheartedly. For as long as I can remember I have felt most at home in a journal or typing these words on a screen. I have over 51 teenage journals that have been gathering dust in my parents’ basement for years. Whether telling the tales of my own teenage angst or making up stories about the people around me to make them more interesting, storytelling has been a passion of mine. When I finally found improv in junior high, I found a way to bring storytelling to life and I was hooked.

I have gotten through many a ridiculously rough situation in my life by telling myself that someday it would make a great scene in some great piece of work I would be a part of. As the years passed, I wondered if that was going to be just another pipe dream. But as I throw myself into improv, my stories have once again found a home. And the more I let my passion guide me, the more opportunities to share my stories continue to come up.

On June 6 at 10:30pm, I will be featured in Past Your Bedtime with two of my favourite Loose Moosers Andrew Phung and Renee Amber. I will be reading the melodramatic notes passed by the group of friends I had when I was 15 years old and Andrew and Renee will do scenes inspired them. Having something from my past inspire a show is truly a dream come true, especially at a theatre so close to my heart. I am really excited to see that the Loose Moose Theatre, with spearheading from the forward-thinking Andrew Phung, is experimenting with new formats and consistently giving support and opportunity to passionate up-comers to develop skills and get stage time. I am honestly honored to have the opportunity to be involved in the theatre during such an exciting time.

I am also a part of another cool show this Thursday. My women’s improv class that just ended will be opening for some of Calgary’s most talented female improvisers – Laura Tennisco, Renee Amber, Lindsay Mullan and Marie Boston.  I can’t wait to gush about it all right here on this blog! I am so honored to share the stage with women I admire and lookup to so much.

I’m excited for what lies ahead and I hope I see some of you in the audience to watch me take this long awaited leap to chase my lifelong dream for storytelling. Life will take you to some pretty awesome places when you follow your bliss.

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