I’m not stuck, I’m growing

ChallengeI have been struggling with the transition between improv classes and show rehearsals. I am really honoured and excited to have the opportunity to practice and perform with two supportive and inspiring improv groups in Calgary, the Kinkonauts and Obviously Improv. I had a really great first show week in September and while I was nervous, I think I did well in the shows. But in the last few months in some of my rehearsal I have felt myself clam up and get in my head a lot. The thing is, inside my head I have four years’ worth of rules I have learned in all the classes I have taken and all the cool things I have seen my favourite improvisers doing for the 15 years I have been an avid fan.  I am in my head because improv and comedy is something I really care about.  Not only do I want to try everything, I want to be good at it too and that pressure is freaking me out. Self-doubt has been plaguing me so much these past few weeks so much so that my love  for improv has at times felt more like work than the play that I love it for being. Improv is my happy place and I was scared I was losing touch with that.  So I sought inspiration by talking to my teachers and going to shows and just listening, watching and taking notes. Here is what I learned:

1) LISTEN

I have a big mouth. I talk a lot. I am a wee bit of a control freak. And even when my mouth is shut, I am usually thinking WAY too much. And with all this going on, it is hard to just listen. And when you listen you get handed gifts, offers and something to build on and in improv this can lead to greatness. My coach/teacher/friend, Aaron Ranger, suggested our class watch this video about improv from a very talented improviser from Victoria named Dave Morris. Take a listen!

2) COMMIT

What I love about longform improv in particular is the uninterrupted storytelling you are allowed to play within. You create reality that has no director jumping in to dictate the rules you establish in your own stage world that you created alone with your scene partner. It is dangerous and liberating but if you don’t commit to the reality and character, it can all fall apart. My favourite improvisers are the ones who can jump in positively and go with the flow of any crazy offer that is provided to them. They listen to their partner, contribute to the reality they are creating and commit. And when it works, it is magic. On Halloween I saw a Past Your Bedtime at Loose Moose that featured two of my very favourite improvisers, Covy Holland and Jackie Fries. Individually, these are two improvisers who know how to commit! They fully immerse themselves in their reality and characters and drive scenes in a non-obnoxious way. Together they were magic and what is even better is that they really seem to have so much fun working together. Jackie had this one weird character trait that she kept bringing back where she would lick the back of her hand every time she killed someone. It was so weird and funny and she committed to that quirk in such a way, it just stuck with me all week.

3) LET GO AND HAVE FUN!

Last night I went to another Notorious show and I was once again wrapped up in the high energy experience they consistently deliver. I have been really excited about this week’s STU Rehearsal because PETAAAA PAAAAAAN (Aaron Ranger) was going to be teaching us the Notorious format. The idea of comedy rapping both scares and excites me. At home I use an app and practice while I clean and while learning the ukulele I have been working on rhyming in character. I got to tell you have been having a crapload of fun! Today’s class was the remedy I needed to get out of my head and just remember how much fun improv can be! Today everything was not smooth or perfect in any of our sets but fudgecakeoreos, did we have fun! It was super cool to try something new and experimenting with a format I am such a big fan of. I want to carry that energy with me everywhere I go!

4) CREATE YOUR OWN OPPORTUNITIES

In case you did not notice I am kind of overflowing with my passion and ambition when it comes to improv. But even though I have been doing improv since I was 11 and taking classes for the last four years, I am sort of a newbie to the scene. And while this wonderful community is super supportive, these are people who have put in a ton of hours and have established strong relationships and a sense of comfort on stage that I just don’t have yet. But I am never going to get any of that without stage time. And working with two groups without a permanent place to perform, makes stage time very limited. I was getting frustrated because I want to go experiment with ideas and create but was not finding too many opportunities to do so and then I got a sweet piece of advice from my old teacher Mat Mailandt. Mat told me to create my own opportunities to perform. He said I need to find people who inspire and I like working with and then produce something to be in, instead of waiting around for stage time. So that is what I plan to do and I am so excited about the challenge! The Kinkonauts are really cool about giving people the chance to try out new stuff as openers during their show week and there’s other opportunities to create within this community, so I am so excited to contribute.

5) KEEP CHALLENGING YOURSELF

Mat was kind enough to talk me through my little mini-improv meltdown. He heard me talk about how stuck I have been feeling in practices, how I could not stop thinking about the rules and how I felt like I was just sucking lately. And then he told me something that just put me at ease, “You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be in this process.” He said the reason it felt hard was because I was being challenged and that was helping me grow. I have spent the past few weeks thinking all these uncomfortable feelings of doubt was me being stuck but what it actually meant was that I was growing! I am trying new things like silent scenes, comedy rapping, improvised singing and being on stage with people I am genuine fans of and it is scaring the poop out of me – but I am doing it! The Notorious show this past week featured a newbie to the crew Mayooonaiiizee, played by Owen Chan. Owen is one of my favourite teachers and performers and when I saw him the week before, he said he was nervous about the Notorious set. This astonished me because I just thought these seasoned improvisers could be just thrown into anything and make it sparkle. But it was super cool to see how well he did and how much fun he had when he said he was that nervous about doing it. It is proof that you never stop growing and challenging yourself no matter how much experience you do or do not have.

And the journey continues…

Thank you to all who have inspired me and taught me valuable lessons that I needed to hear this week. Whether I reached out to you and you listened and shared your sage wisdom or just inspired me by being a talented improviser on stage, thank you for contributing to the lessons I have learned and the journey I am on. <3 A

This time last year

JoyLast year around this time I had basically a mental breakdown in regards to my career. I was rotating my wheels and all my pent up frustrations exploded in a very snarky email to a boss I wasn’t seeing eye to eye with at the time. I pressed send and instantly regretted it for a lot of reasons. One, I was sure that was me sending myself to the unemployment line when I was solely responsible for my financial well-being. And two, that is not who I wanted to be; a passive aggressive little brat with no realistic idea of how the corporate game is played. I had worked very hard to be smarter than that and I felt in one click of a button I ruined all the integrity I had built as a professional. After groveling I was lucky enough to save my job.

But at first, as I silently tried to redeem myself, I was questioning this life that had somehow landed in my lap. I was a writer, which was a huge accomplishment because I had spent years working towards becoming one. I just felt like this was not the writing I had ambitiously dreamt of when I was in college working my ass off to try to be the top of the class. This was not the writing I thought I was heading to when I poured my blood, sweat and tears at a low level radio job for years. But here I was a writer for an oil and gas company, making a decent living and producing a ton of work… but I had no idea what I was doing there. I was completely lost and helpless at the end of last year.

During that Christmas I spent a lot of time on my own trying to figure things out because I was so tired of feeling my life pass me by and not really knowing how to contribute to it. That November, I had been to a lot of really great new improv shows and it was one of the few things I could remember shedding light on me for the months that had passed. So I just went towards it. I actually charged towards it. And with every show and class and opportunity to perform I feel like a little piece of the puzzle is put into place with the lessons I am learning.

I took the rules of improv into my floundering career and I can’t tell you how much things have turned around. I started saying yes, I started to contribute more and was more concerned about my colleagues than I was about myself. Everything changed. My relationship with my boss, my understanding of the “game” in all scenarios I am in and even my connection to my work, no matter what it is.

This year, I am a little less lost and a lot more filled with purpose. Things are not perfect but the journey ahead is towards that light I went towards last year. And every day I am grateful that there was a light to go towards.

Back to my happy place

photo (2)Over the last 10 days I have stumbled upon a temporary improv hiatus. This hiatus was mostly due to the holidays and a wedding I had to go to. It has been great to catch with old friends and family and establish some balance in my life. But today after going to a show at The Kinkonauts Lab, I was reminded how much I missed “my people”.

I often feel like I have very little in common with people but over the last year I have been lucky enough to become better acquainted with the people of Calgary’s amazing improv community. Sure our day to day lives might be varied (university, teaching and the corporate monkey bars) but we all have this one thing that we are all pretty passionate about that brings us together. A real … community. And every time I am in the room with them whether it is in a class, in a show or watching a show, I feel really lucky to know these people.

Tonight I watched an experimental show at the Lab hosted by Rob Janowski and Shawn Holt. It opened with Shawn’s duo called “Half Her Age” with the talented Isabel Sinclair followed by a hodge podge of Calgary improvisers from different theatres in the city, many of whom I have been lucky enough to practice with. It was so cool to see their strengths and differences come together in really engaging scenes. I think the best improvisers are the ones who can work with anyone and adapt to different styles and this show allowed for that kind of magic to happen. I was inspired because that’s the kind of improviser I want to be – someone who can’t put their ego aside and work with anyone, in a bunch of different styles.

I am excited that this show is happening every other week, I think you should all definitely check out it out and experience the avant garde style of improv we have budding right here in our own community. Amazing things can happen in church basements, brightly painted classrooms and cafés, people – so check out CalgaryImprov.org for all the cool shows happening around the city. I’m excited to jump back into my obsessions with regular scheduled classes and workshops back up tomorrow. I’m back where I belong! My happy place…

Show week = hectic contentment

Contentment

The last two weeks of my life have been insanely busy between working, traveling and improvising. My sleep has been limited but each and every moment I have spent awake has been filled with purpose. And in those moments when I feel my exhaustion catch up with me and inclined to slip into my grumpy pants, I remember that for the first time in what feels like a long time, I have a reason to get up in the morning.

The last decade of my life I have felt a hole in my soul. I know that sounds dramatic but the only other way to define it, is a constant feeling of consistently unsatisfied hunger… for something. I tried to fill it up with food, guys, friends, work and some bad habits but it never went away. And when I sat in improv show after improv show, watched a really good tv show, read a great book … even though I was enjoying it all… my soul would ache.

Since I have been back from my trip to Boston, I have been surrounded by a community of people so passionate and eager about storytelling, comedy and trying new things. And there have been moments this week where I have felt overwhelmed at how I lucky I am to join them this show season. I would write down every single detail here from this past week but this blog would be crazy long. I went to shows every night from Wednesday through Saturday and was lucky enough to perform in two of them. Fear crept up on me but I am happy to report that joy won the battle and I had a great time up on stage with two groups that filled me with laughter last season. I was welcomed, supported and entertained by the Kinkonauts and Obviously Improv.

The more I have gotten involved with improv, the more that old ache has subsided. And last night at the end of a completely wonderful and BUSY show week with the Kinkonauts and Obviously Improv, as I lay my tired head to the pillow, I realized that my soul felt satisfied. My life is far from perfect at the moment but I think this as close to content than I have ever felt in my life.

I can’t tell you enough times how fortunate we here in Calgary to have such a rich comedy scene. Take a break from your mundane routine and try something different, check out a show or heck push yourself out of your comfort zone and take a class! I may not be able to guarantee you that you will find your version of contentment there but I can guarantee you that you will meet some great people.

I have no idea what lies ahead on this great adventure but I suppose that is the beauty of improvising. I just hope I get the chance to make you laugh! Until then, I must go unpack!

<3 A

See you later comfort zone

Amy PoehlerOn this the second day of my 32nd year I was ushered right out of the door of my comfort zone for 12 straight hours. I have always been a notorious ‘fraidy cat, as the children like to taunt. I am scared of heights, rodents, operating things with wheels and for the whole decade of my twenties I was terrified of getting back on stage. I must commend my 31 year old self from taking leaps and bounds to conquer my fear of performing and instead focus on my passion for it. In the last few months, I have found my niche with strong characters and voice work but I have identified areas that I needed to grow in. I want to work on my physicality and bringing more grounded characters to the stage. Today,outside of my comfort zone, ushered me on what I think is the journey to becoming the performer I have always aspired to be.

The day started on my second full day of the Obviously Improv retreat, proceeding one of the most sober and completely ideal birthdays I have ever had and a whirlwind and career-inspiring trip to Boston. I was apprehensive about the day’s agenda as it consisted of a mask workshop. Masking is pantomiming with stage masks with very distinct facial features. I have seen this format a lot at Loose Moose over the years but never had been really inclined to try it. In my mind it took away my words and essentially forced a character on me, rather than giving me the joy of being able to create my character from scratch. But in the true spirit of the courageous person I was trying to become in my last year of existence, I let go and jumped in. And I am so glad I did because there floating atop the deep end of my comfort zone was the improv epiphany that I have been awaiting for some time now.

There behind a mask, looking like god knows what, I was forced to slow down, shut up and find the character in my body and bring it alive in my being. Something I was so apprehensive in the beginning of the day became addicting to me by the end of the workshop. I think I have a lot I can learning about masking and to think I was not even going to try it!

After a quick break with my kitty at home, I headed to another improv class but this time with the Kinkonauts (addicted, much?). I was forewarned by my Obviously Improv troupe member and Kinkonauts coach, Aaron Ranger, that because of my love for characters I might hate what he was doing with the class. When I heard this, I freaked out a little in my head. If I couldn’t bring my characters, what I consider my strength to the Kinkonauts, what could I offer? I learned in class today that Aaron does not want us to do characters at all in our STU Kinkonauts sets. He wants us to be ourselves on stage… and with my best poker face on… my stomach dropped. ME… who wants to hear about me? And what I have always loved about storytelling and improv, is getting lost in characters, if only for one moment escaping my mundane existence. Being exposed as boring old me on a stage brought out every insecurity I have about myself.

During the break I went for a little walk to calm myself down and I thought about a message that has been slapping me in the face all year but with increased vigor this past week. “No Fear”. A motto created for our STU group from Aaron and topic that was continually spotlighted at the conference I attended in Boston. I have to stop doubting myself. Every disaster and comeback of my 32 years has given me a lesson and a story and instead of just getting lost in made-up characters, I should take the time to develop my presence and voice on stage – as just me… Andrea Marston with the ammo of age to back me up. *deep breath*

Support my journey – please!?

Before I left for Boston I wrote a short sketch with my talented friend Marie Boston who produced and edited a video with her gracious and equally talented friend Brit, that we are entering to the CBC Comedy Coup contest for a chance to win $500K to create 1/2 hour comedy special for CBC prime time.

Watch Funhouse Rampage’s first entry here and help us move on in the contest: http://comedycoup.cbc.ca/weekenddeceit

I am also in shows this week with the Kinkonauts (click here for the invite) and Obviously Imrov (click here for the invite). I would love to see some friendly faces in the audience during this pretty exciting week in my life!

I am letting go, jumping in and improvising myself towards all those insanely big dreams that I have ached for sitting in the audience of the hundreds shows I have watched. And I get to share these huge moments of learning and growing with two groups I feel very safe and at home with. I feel truly blessed! I’m scared, I am excited and I am ready to turn a blind eye to fear and explore where all these risks will take my lifelong dream. So goodbye to my comfort zone and those pesky insecurities and hello to whatever lays beyond that! Here goes nothing 32!

*about the picture quote on this post* – I was pacing around after my mind blowing weekend of improv, processing, when I decided to distract myself from improv for a second on pinterest, when I happened across this quote from one of my comedy inspirations. These words found me exactly when I needed them to… 

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!

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!