53 weeks

53 weeksThe picture attached to this post was taken 53 weeks ago. It was from my sketch writing class with Kevin McDonald and the first time I had performed in front of more than 10 people in over a decade. 53 weeks ago performing in front of a crowd meant something completely different than it does today. At that time, I was terrified and spent a few minutes in the bathroom trying to muster up an excuse to get out of performing. The show was not that notable or fantastic, our sketches were okay but something in me must have changed on this day. Because today I jump in eagerly to any chance to perform, whether for 10 people or 100. In fact when I found there were not enough opportunities to try out new things I wanted to experiment with, I took the sage advice of my friend and improv guru Mat Mailandt, and together with my good friend and fellow comedy geek Christine created Giggle Duck.

Giggle Duck was created to give us a place to play around with short form and long form formats we don’t always get a chance to play in. We wanted to give this opportunity to people from all skill levels in the community to come play in a low stress and joyful environment. Christine has an amazing eye for set design and we now have three themed shows under our belt with the amazing support of senior members of the Kinkonauts and Obviously Improv. The community has been really receptive to our vision and we have had some really fun shows and workshops that embodies our vision for the group. When Mat asked us to open for the Fresh Notes Festival of Musical Comedy, I did what I started to do 53 weeks ago and jumped right in. We found a venue, we cast a show and we held two really well-received workshops before our show this past Thursday.

The show ended up being the epitome of what we had pictured a Giggle Duck show to be. Joyful and fun for people to play in and (hopefully) watch. It gave people like me who constantly go to shows and see cool shit done, a chance to try it all out. A place where you don’t have to be hesitant because of a nasty note that may be waiting for you after the show or a judgy scene partner. Giggle Duck promotes a judgement-free, fun show experience. And no matter what some antiquated critics may say, seeing people have a good time makes the audience have a good time too. It was nice to see every piece of worry and work put into the show, pay off. I was really proud of our show and our players.

53 weeks changed my life and rejuvenated my very soul. 53 weeks has lead me to my tribe of weirdos in this wonderful improv community and has brought me joy, momentum and friendships that 54 weeks ago weren’t in my life. 53 weeks ago I took a risk and 53 weeks later, I am so grateful for where I am and hopeful for the 53 weeks ahead of me and what I can accomplish, if I continue to just jump in.

Stay tuned…

In full bloom

BloomingI am growing a familiarity with the Sunday after a Kinkonauts Show Week. My cheeks feel like they have had quite the marathon workout, I am a wee bit hungover from a great party that I stayed way too late at and I feel the warm and fuzzy feelings of the joyous week of performing, enthusiastically ushering and learning from and watching my improv friends and heroes.

Show Week has been easy to fall in love with from day one. You walk into the very unassuming tiny lobby and black box theatre that is the Birds & Stone Theatre and you are greeted by the most hospitable bunch of comedy geeks you may ever meet. The energy is brimming with joy. That is how I felt as an audience member, and now even more so being a part of the community.

I have grown quite an eager fondness for ushering and it is cool to be a part of someone’s first show week, especially when I consider my first experience there. I want them to feel excited to be there and most importantly welcomed. That welcoming atmosphere is just the icing on the cake of this unqiue, indie improv experience and it is pretty effing cool to be a part of something that is in full bloom.

This show week, I watched shows differently. Meaning, I observed more like a student rather than a fan (let’s be real… I am still a huge geeky improv fan haha). I took notes in the dark.  And I took a really great workshop with the Kinkonaut’s special guest from New York City Shannon Manning and I am currently in another class with one my faves Mat Mailandt,  that is helping harness my crazy energy and be real on stage. The thing is in these lessons I am not just learning about finding scenes and characters and I am learning to find my confidence. I am learning to have a little faith in myself and that makes me feel like maybe… just maybe… that this late bloomer may finally be in bloom too.


March madness is in full effect to this new version of myself that says yes to EVERYTHING! Haha.. Here are a few things that I am playing in that I would totes love you to check out.

Girls Gone Wilde Festival-Women in Improv Night

Fresh Notes: Giggle Duck presents Love Out Loud

Obviously Improv Presents – The Improv Games: Catching Funds

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


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!