I found my people

Kinkonauts FebSo far, 2015 has been a bag of mixed nuts. Work has been really stressful. I got a promotion to be a manager, which is great, but I am also working my old position to which has yet to be filled. I am used to killing it at work and working days ahead at a time and now instead I am working a day behind, can’t keep up with my emails and feel like I am neglecting my employees. Monday to Friday, I can be found stress crying in a ladies bathroom stall at work far too many times than I would like to admit.

Then there was a flash of false hope when I thought I could move to Toronto. The offer came suddenly and I was very gullible to believe it. Kids remember, if something seems too good to be true – it probably is. Toronto and Second City have been a dream of mine for over half my life and I know that one day I will get there but when I do, it will be on my own timeline and because I put the work in to get there. Truth be told, I have a lot of work to do before I get there, and as much as I kick and scream about being in Calgary, Calgary is the place to get this work done.

Here is the delicious chocolate covered nuts in that mixed bag of nuts I was referring to earlier, improv. At the age of 32, I am finding my voice and a place where I actually might fit in. I am a short, round, ethnic, socially awkward nerd who has never fit in. In dating, sometimes even at work and definitely in social situation this has been an issue. And then I found the Kinkonauts, this welcoming group of misfit comedy nerds who took me in and accepted my freak flag and encouraged me to let it fly in the wind. Now that I have this little family who accepts, supports and trusts me, I feel fearless and excited to try out EVERYTHING. I want  to produce more shows, do more podcast, try sketch, I have been writing songs and I have never been hungrier for the stage. This week was show week and man did it validate all the love I have for the Kinkonauts.

Sunday was the day STU (the lovely Kinkonauts group I am in) moved the stage from the Lab to the Birds & Stone Theatre for the shows. Things started off rather bumpy with our normally punctual coach being about an hour late and forgetting the keys when he got there. It was a snowy and cold night and we could have been pretty bratty about it but I am super proud of how we handled it as a group. We played games together in the stairwell of the Movie Poster store while we waited, we broke into the church and theatre to practice and when we got the keys to move the stage we hauled ass to get in some practice time afterwards. I was so proud to be a part of such a badass group! On Wednesday, we got perform as one group for a full half an hour set to open show week up for the first time ever. While the set was a bit chaotic and needed a dash of polish, our energy was off the charts and I think we all had a lot of fun playing together. I am really happy with how far we have come and super jazzed to be a part of such a dedicated and supportive group.

The majority of the shows this show week were sold out and the crowds were filled with people who have never seen the Kinkonauts before and I wondered if they would have the same experience I had a little over a year ago when I saw the Kinkonauts for the first time. Seeing the inspiring and fresh shows that I saw this week, I know that they must have connected to the experience the way I had. The Kinkonauts space is tiny black box space in basement of unitarian church and their stage is a super tiny. Just the kind of places you read about theatre companies like Upright Citizen Brigade getting started in New York and Chicago. It has an underground, indie feel that makes it badass and artsy but the community is filled with talented gems who are supportive of one another on and off stage. The energy when you are there is fun-filled and warm & welcoming whether your a Kinkonauts or an audience member.

This week the Kinkonauts did their first ever Improv Musical with assistance from special guests the super talented and supportive Louie Pearlman (Magnet Theatre) and the dynamic accompanist and funny man, Leif Ingebrigtsen (Rapid Fire Theatre). The first night they did the musical Shera Princess of Power and it was magical with a slow jam from a singing Unicorn. I was blown away by how cohesive it was (it was all made up on the spot!?)  and super pumped to take Louie’s musical improv workshop. The class was packed! Louie taught us so many formats and we got to improv sing together…. *sigh*… just one of the best days in 2015 so far! I even did a solo song, which is like the scariest thing in the world for me if I am not alone in my kitchen…but my excitement to be there in the class pushed me up on stage and it was SO much fun. Show week ended with a turkey gobbling and hilarious set from the Adventure, another amazing improv musical (the time under the sea) from The Kinkonauts and a very weird and wonderful Mixtape – followed by a super fun dance party with my little improv family.

I am super grateful to be a part of this amazing group who is always bringing something new the scene while encouraging their troupe members of all levels to do the same. I am SO excited to see what lies ahead for this little group that could!

Ode to Neverland

PETAPANThe first time I saw Aaron Ranger on stage he was PETTTAAAAA PAAAANNN in Notorious. If no one has ever seen Notorious and you live in Calgary, you are terrible and you should! The first time I saw Calgary’s best, worst and only hip hop comedy group was also the first night I saw the Kinkonauts and Mixtape too. Aaron played in all three groups that night and I remember the way he burst onto stage with enthusiasm with any scene he was doing. A true sense of commitment and passion for improv radiates when he performs and his energy lights up the stage. As I have gotten to know Aaron as a coach of our Kinkonauts group STU and as a friend, I have come to learn how utterly contagious his energy can be.

A couple of months ago I was going through a little rut with my improv. I was stuck in my head about all the rules I knew and how I could best use them on stage. So I went to Aaron. Another really cool thing about Aaron is his accessibility to his students. Everyone in STU is pretty aware that if they have a problem, Aaron will work it out with you. Aaron calmly responded to my concerns by saying, “You know the rules, so have some fun and fuck it up!”. And then it clicked, oh yeah I am doing improv FOR FUN! I am not trying to be an academy award winning actress, I am trying to have fun with the people on stage and make a story that entertains the audience. And that is pretty hard to do when you are so deep in thought about rules and connections. Improv is about instinct and if you are in your head, you are planning and not going off instinct.

In STU classes and Level D classes I am taking with the Calgary Improv School, Aaron reminds us of the rules, brings up the energy and lets play on stage without overdirecting us. Aaron knows his shit, he knows formats and the rules and while he tells us about them, he lets us PLAY with them freely. This method of teaching has brought out a fearlessness in my improv that I have not seen since high school. I am eager to try new things and have fun doing it and somehow I escaped out of my head. And I think that somehow is Aaron Ranger.

I’m grateful to him for putting me in this mindset of fearless freedom because I have got some crazy stuff planned for my new year!

If you are looking for a badass fearless version of yourself, perhaps try out an improv class with a great instructors like Notorious’ own PETTAAAAA PAAAANN!

The rise of Giggle Duck

Giggle Duck Family

On Boxing Day I co-produced my first show with my good friend Christine Harvey.

Christine and I met 3 or 4 years ago at Loose Moose Theatre. Her and her husband Michael were really into the improv scene, so I took classes with them and occasionally saw them to do tech when I was volunteering or at a show. Christine had been talking about the Kinkonauts with me for awhile before I checked them out and became absolutely addicted. I always have a lot of fun hanging with the Harveys because we are just a bunch of comedy and improv geeks who love to riff around ideas with me.

Christine and I had been mulling around about a project we could work on together all year and it was only earlier this month that we solidified it. Christine and I are ladies in our thirties and we improvise a little differently than the young spuds out there. While we are super excited to be on stage we are a tad bit timid, so we are not going to behead a fellow improviser for a little time to improvise. What we both love about the Kinkonauts and longform is that we get to improvise in a community. Fellow players are not up to compete for time on stage but are there to have their scene partners back. The thing is we sort of missed the high energy silliness of short form games. So our show concept was basically to give the community a safe place to experiment with formats they did not always get to play, try out new ideas, jam with a diverse group of improvisers from Calgary’s community and to hopefully give more opportunities for people who put in the time and passion into the community but don’t always get the chance to perform.

Boxing Day is a weird day to have a show. While the support we got from the community was awesome, we were not sure how many people we could get to even perform at the show let alone watch it. We had practice on December 17 and only two people joined us, Grace Lu (Loose Moose) and Carol our fellow Kinkonaut. We had invited like 10-14 people, so this could have worried us but I think we were all just itching to play and try stuff. The four of us are longtime students of improv and have taken many classes, so we were like “Okay I love this game, let’s play it!” and we would all be like “YES LET’S!”. We had fun, we learned new games from each other and we made each other laugh so much there were threats of barfing and peeing ourselves. Rather than the lack of attendance of our practice bumming us out, the energy from the small jam sessions lit our mimed fire even more!

I am happy to say that a lot more people showed up to play at the show. The Kinkonaut’s super talented friend from New York City’s Magnet Theatre, Louie Pearlman lit up the tiny gorgeous set. PETA PAN from Notorious and my STU coach, Aaron Ranger played the dark and hilarious Uncle Santa Leon (a wild host of sorts). And the gracious and talented Ryan Pilling from Obviously Improv stepped in at the last minute to play and act as our troubadour in the longform set. It was a great mix of people from all levels of improv from groups around the city. The show was incredibly fun and awesomely weird but not perfect, the audience was warm and energetic but not huge. Overall, Christine and I were pretty jazzed about how it went.

Giggle Duck will live on in 2015. We were working on a podcast and we have musical improv show planned for February!

I know I incessantly gush about the Kinkonauts but I am going to do it again. It is so cool to FINALLY be involved with a group who shows so much gratitude, respect and trust in their community. A place where everyone is given a chance to perform and create. The Kinkonauts are not scared to support new ideas whether it is coming from up top or from someone new. They wholeheartedly live the improv mottos of saying “YES! And…” and failing gracefully. So thanks to this community for taking me and letting me try new things. I am excited for all the adventures that kind of creative freedom brings us in 2015!

Ps- Along with coming up with the ah-mazing set design Christine also painted our beloved GIGGLE DUCK mascot and logo!

Giggle Duck Logo

VIVA LA GIGGLE DUCK!

A significant year

Thank you 2014

I can’t believe it has been a year since I have been going to Kinkonauts shows and January will make a year since I started taking classes with them. It feels like I have known these people for much longer. They are more welcoming to me than some people I have known for years. They have embraced me for who I am and allow me to grow within their community. After years and years of feeling like an outsider, I feel like I am amongst a group of people who maybe don’t get everything about me (I am a weird, handful) but they get my love for comedy and storytelling, and that understanding makes me feel connected to them. And maybe that is the biggest change that has happened this year, for the first time in years, I feel connected. Improv has given me connection, not just within this warm and welcoming community, but with family, friends and at work too. As I realize that every moment of every day is essentially improvised, I put more of an effort into being present, listening and figuring out ways to contribute – instead of checking out (my specialty).

Taking classes with the Kinkonauts and Obviously Improv woke me up and made me take down a lot of the protective walls I had been hiding behind. Now I am on a journey of transformation driven by this fiery ambition I completely forgot was a part of my very being. The girl who practiced writing her Emmy speech in the back of the library in high school and the girl who worked in retail and wrote sketches on receipt paper, well I thought she was long gone. But every time I get a chance to improvise in a show and I push myself past all those nerves, I feel all her ambition bubble up inside me. All those big ass dreams that I had in my youth feel reignited and at the age of 32, I want to chase them down at high speed.

The last year of my life has changed in these amazing ways because I followed my curiosity and tried something new. That is all it takes. Follow the thing that sparks your interest. Dust off old dreams. Never stop exploring the things that light you up on the inside.

This past year has not always been easy or perfect, parts of it were even really hard but this year has been significant. This year matters because I found something I lost and it brought me back. My drive and passion for the year ahead is immense. I am excited for what more lies on this path that I am charging down. I am excited to tackle all the challenges and embrace all the opportunities. I am excited to piece together a life I have been daydreaming about all my days. 2015… I am ready…

PS – If you are interested in following your curiosity about improv, take a class! Check out the schedule at http://www.kinkonauts.com or http://www.calgaryimprov.org.

Take the note, hold onto the joy

Amy DoSo I survived another show week, just barely. I have been sick for like 2 solid weeks during what has been the most eventful week of my whole year. That’s always the way with this old body of mine.

It was finally Kinkonauts show week! It seems like I have been waiting on this for a lot more than two months, I was excited to see all the shows and even more excited to have an opportunity to perform with my amazing group I practice every week with, STU.

Well besides having to work through the plague at work, due to a lack of sick days, it was also my first official week as a “Manager”. Getting this title meant a lot for me because I feel like it validated the turnaround I have made in the past year. I felt proud of the work I had put into my career and my life outside of work. But here’s what I have learned so far about being a manager, I am doing all the same work I did before but with more meetings, responsibilities and just for a tad bit more money. The thing is I am not quitter, once I am committed to something I follow through. I can be stubbornly persistent and often push myself a little too hard.

On performance day with the Kinkonauts, Wednesday, I had a hectic and feverish (literally, I had a fever and I was sweaty) day at work. After work I felt burned out, sick enough to question if I should do the show. But then that old stubbornly persistent voice screamed in my head, “Buck up princess! This is one of very few times to perform! You’re doing this!” So I popped a few Dayquils and pumped some jams and revved myself up. By the time I got to the theatre, I was buzzing from the cold drugs and the energy around me.

Being on stage was a blur, I don’t remember quite what I did and why I did it, I just did it and I had fun! Immediately after, I felt great! I felt a surge of adrenaline go through me and I wish I could bottle that immediate moment of joy of post improv. Then we headed back and gave notes to each other. It is here where all that joy is sprinkled with judgement, self-doubt and regret. I focused too much on cake, I did not have variety of characters that I brought to scenes and the opening music scene, which I initiated, did not make too much sense. We had done better sets in rehearsals. All the instant joy was deflated when we tore it a part afterwards.

And this is a big issue I am having with improv. When you google search improv quotes you will find words such as: “There are no rules in improv”, “Fail gracefully”, etc. This art form I love so much is supposed to be spontaneous, in the moment, free flowing make-‘em-ups that is beautiful because you don’t have to worry so much about failing. So in essence, it is hard for me to understand the concept of “notes”, especially immediately after that sweet improv high. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you need to be aware of your habits, strengths and weaknesses to be able to grow and move ahead. And I think if each improviser is really honest with themselves, they can point out all the things they need to work on. And in workshops that is the perfect place to address those issues but I don’t really understand the concept of picking up a part something that brought you pure joy moments before. The funny thing is most of the notes I got, I gave to myself.

Anyways, the set was not perfect but it was a chance to get to share, with my few family and friends that came and a bunch of wonderful strangers, what I love doing most.

The week ended with a chest infection diagnoses and I was ordered to bed rest. It was here in these moments of rest that I promised myself to hold onto the joy but listen to the note too and take ownership of what you have created on stage. It is hard thing for me to do, especially being my own worst critic. But without the joy, improv is just more work and I have more than enough of that in my life these days!

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.