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!

Notorious

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!

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.