Beginning, Histor-Improvisation

Many people recognize improv comedy from mainstream favorites Whose Line Is It Anyway? and The Second City. Not only did shows like MadTV and Saturday Night Live – SNL – spawn from improvisation, but many theaters across the country have paved the way in making it a legitimate art-form. Improv, though, has roots from a long, long time ago.

Improvisational comedy dates back to 391 B.C. Atellan Farce, or Oscan Games, initiated improv through humor and rude jokes. The forms of Atellan Farce spawned what many people recognize today as Commedia dell’arte – the most famous masks of theater. Improvisational theater, along with pantomime work and suggestion-based art, was presented on the streets of Italy into the 16th and 18th centuries. Actors created plays out of broad stories and themes.

In the 1800s, few theatrical theorists presented improvisation as a psychological and acting tool. Konstantin Stanislavsky, of Russia, and Jackques Copeau, of France – both notable directors, actors and theorists – always used improv in their acting technique instruction. Stanislavsky indicated improv comedy, improvisation theater and improvisational therapy are vital for quality acting; life.

Then the 1900s happened and the fuse of improv had been lit – especially in the midwest. Viola Spolin, often referred to as the Mother of Improv, built momentum for the improv movement. In the 1940s into 1960s, Spolin created staged shows and wrote many notable books. In the 1970s, Keith Johnstone, often referred to as the father of improv, invented TheaterGames in Canada – accredited to being the style used in the hit show Whose Line Is It Anyway?.

All while the windy city was booming – next blog will highlight the Chicago boom.

 

Jon Jon Lannen chibi headshot
Jon Jon Lannen is the best-selling author of the Giraffe children’s book series. He is an instructor, performer and writer for the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. More on him here.

Tragedy, Comedy – Part II

One thing that has been synonymous with not only theater, but life, is that there is a fine balance of tragedy and comedy; sad and happy; negative and positive. In the last post, we highlighted the darker side of performing arts, tragedy. This time, we will tackle the lighter side of the arts – comedy, or Thalia.

As aforementioned, this blog is the second to the two-part series highlighting the faces of theatre: Thalia and Melpomene. If one didn’t study theater and performing arts, those names may be obscure references. Melpomene is the muse of tragedy – representing the darker side of theater; Thalia is the muse of comedy – a symbol for the light side of performing arts. In Greek theater, Thalia and Melpomene were masks used to differentiate emotional states as these performances were in front of thousands of people – no a/v equipment, either. This blog will feature Melpomene’s positive, comedic sister Thalia – the muse of comedy.

Whereas comedy and tragedy, Thalia and Melpomene, are the most prolific, there were a total of nine muses in Greek mythology. The two most iconic were the most used on traditional theater stages in Grecian times. Thalia is the muse of comedy. Symbolizing the smile on the notable theater masks; she was the daughter of Zeus – the Greek god of Thunder and of the Skies. The King of Mount Olympus and Mnemosyne are parents to not only Thalia, but the eight other muses. It is said that all art can be captured or inspired by one or many of the muses. The nine muses include Calliope, Clio, Erato, Euterpe, Polyhymnia, Terpsichore, Urania – and, of course, the Paris and Nicole of the times – Melpomene and Thalia.

According to Tales Beyond Belief, “they entertained and joined the Olympian gods in their feasts drinking water, milk, and honey, but never wine. The sisters were originally the patron goddesses of poets and musicians but over time their roles extended to include comedy, tragedy, history, poetry, music, dancing, singing, rhetoric, sacred hymns, and harmony. Thalia was the Muse of Comedy and Pastoral Poetry.” The most famous linked daughter to Thalia is Melpomene, the muse of tragedy. Thalia, known for comedy, poems and theater, is best associated with the smile. The goddess of festivity and humor is often depicted with a bulge and a comedy mask.

Comedy is often linked with theater and improvisation as it is the most commonly expressed emotion, beyond grief. It is also the thread that unites people of all creeds. The comedy of Thalia is often associated with fluid poetry filled with joy.  Thalia is vital to not only performance, but life.

Jon Jon Lannen chibi headshot
Jon Jon Lannen is the best-selling author of the Giraffe Book Series. He is an instructor, performer and writer for the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. More on him here.

Tragedy, Comedy – Part I

Improvisation, comedy and theater have a place in society now more than ever. With negative images flooding social media, television and everywhere one looks, the arts are proof that in order to see the light, one must face the dark: comedy vs. tragedy. One thing that has been synonymous with not only theater, but life, is that there is a fine balance of tragedy and comedy; sad and happy.

This blog will be a two-part series highlighting the faces of theatre: Thalia and Melpomene. High school drama departments, theater playbills and many notable schools highlight the notorious symbol of a smiling and frowning mask that most people associate with modern-day performing arts. The aforementioned muses, Melpomene and Thalia, represent the two spectrums of emotion. Melpomene is the muse of tragedy; the frown, Thalia is the muse of comedy; the smile. The masks were used in historic Grecian theater performances to differentiate the actor’s different emotional states – the masks evolved to exaggerated emotions and ultimately became the symbol of theater and performing arts. This post will highlight the other half of Thalia or the inspiration of tragedy – Melpomene.

The recent events in Orlando have made it difficult to not only write, but let alone improvise, or hell, even speak. The night after the tragedy on the LGBT community, I was slated to speak to a humanist group about life, connection and improvisation. That morning, I was at an all-time low after the event – knowing people in the Florida gay community affected. Despite the horrific circumstance, something positive had to come of it. During the time with group, I spoke to the importance of tragedy and how it initiates subconscious gratitude to the comedy, or positive events; and visa versa. This may be why we hug our loved ones when we hear of someone falling ill or even passing. The lesson of light vs. dark was one of the best I had given and the group was delighted with contagious light and love. The positive energy was palpable – just hours after negative energy. That’s when everyone universally understood the importance of Melpomene and Thalia. There is no happy, without sad. There is no positive, without negative. There is no we, without you. There is no Thalia, without Melpomene.

Melpomene is the muse of tragedy. Symbolizing the frown on the mask; she was the daughter of Zeus – the Greek god of Thunder and of the Skies. The King of Mount Olympus and Mnemosyne are parents to Melpomene, the muse of tragedy along with the eight other daughter. The most famous linked daughter to Melpomene is Thalia, the muse of comedy. The tragedy of Melpomene is often associated with beautiful melodies and songs – Melpomene traditonally carries a mask of theater and knife, one in each hand. Melpomene was the heart of the family, deriving from the word celebrate.

I compare comedy, improv and theater to the human heartbeat. It starts at one point, the point raises to an all-time high – a peak – then it begins slipping down. The point goes below the point where it began hitting an all-time low – a valley – then it rises a higher. Then, miraculously, it levels out for a moment. Then it does it again, and again, and again. The heart explains the philosophy of the legendary theater masks echocardiogram machine – it tells us to live with the peaks, the valleys and the moments of stillness. A life of highs, lows or worse, stagnant would be counter productive to life; literally.

Jon Jon Lannen chibi headshot
Jon Jon Lannen is the best-selling author of the Giraffe book series. He is an instructor, performer and writer for the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse.
More on him here.

Improv is like Religion

Improv and religion go hand in hand. Now, I know, yo’ mama told you not to talk about religion and politics, but this blog throws mama’s sentiment out of the window. Don’t want to read about improv & religion? Click the ? in the top right corner and Bye Felicia.

Gratitude. ¹

Improv, for many, can be a religious experience. For those of you involved, you know the feeling – you take a good class with a great instructor, you want to tell everyone about it; you perform a show, you want to blast in on facebook. For those of you not directly involved also know the feeling – that improviser is contagiously pushing you to perform, take classes or be the ear for improv excitement. Similarly, people involved in deep religious beliefs do the same – they may hear a good sermon and want to tell everyone about it; they read an inspiring quote or passage, they want as many people to know on social media or in person. Hell, some even knock on your damn door their so excited.

Beautiful church in Minneapolis. ²

Last month, the National Geographic Channel premiered an insightful series hosted by arguably the most recognizable voices, Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman hosts The Stories of God and dives deep, deep into God and religion. If you have not had an opportunity to see it, check it out. There was a similar television series by the same name produced by BBC. The show The Stories of God is a captivating journey into religion and its many forms. Freeman travels the globe in the hopes to learn about one thing: God.

Different traditions; different languages; different names for God; different types of architecture; different geography; different cultures; different prayers; different chants; different emphasises; one God. Despite their countless differences, all of the believers Morgan Freeman spoke to a higher being, a higher power. For the lack of better words, one magical spirit that provides the soul peace.

Morgan Freeman hosts National Geographic’s The Story of God. ³

Hearing the eclectic group of spiritual leaders speak, there was a common thread. They were all declaring the same message, but simply conveying it through different forms. Remarkably, on a universal level, everybody believes the same thing. Religion evokes the thought that there is something beyond human life – something spiritually larger, indescribable by human perception.

Even more remarkably, the same is true for improvisation and the study of the art. In the most simplest of terms, improv is religion. It could be argued that the arts are the over-arching religion, but this analogy is far more microscopic on the improvisational theater community and its reach. At the end of the day, every improviser, everywhere in the world, believes in something beyond goofy-character-work, pantomine-where-work or raw scene-work; everyone believes in Improv.

Different theaters have different warm-ups; different leaders; different shows; different names for games; different spaces; different geography; different audiences; different emphasises; one Improv. Much like The Stories of God spotlights, everyone, in the grand scheme of things, believes in the same indescribable being; improv. Chicago is a great example of this analogy at work. There are many wonderful theaters in the city of Chicago – including Annoyance Theater, ComedySportz, Improv Den, iO Chicago, Stage 773, The Playground, The Second City, Under the Gun Theater to name a few, truly. The cultivation of such a vibrant and diverse community comes from the same belief [improv], but emanate that [improv] belief in different forms.

Different delivery and theory prominence; same message.

iO Chicago. ?

Improvisation is a unique form of theatrical comedy. There are theaters where the primary goal for the improv comedy ensembles is to make the audiences laugh. There are experimental ensembles with the only intention to make the audience feel an emotion, without an emphasis on laughter. Some productions have a more humble approach; using improvisation as therapy. Others use the art of improvisational theater as entertaining, high-end productions like The Second City and Denver Center for the Performing Arts. The key is every interpretation has a place in the improv world.

Denver’s improv circuit is booming and has sundry selection for education and live comedy, unique for a growing city. There are incredible things happening in and around Denver. The marijuana legalization has opened a niche for comedy shows centered around cannabis. Theaters all over Mile High City – like the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse – offer classes and shows. Like religion, explore all of the improv. Knowing what theory or belief you want to follow begins with being informed and educated; this art is your journey.

Follow your heart and surround yourself with the community that vibrates your soul. Why? Improv.

Jon Jon Lannen chibi headshot

Jon Jon Lannen is a writer, performer and instructor at Voodoo Comedy. He loves improv, dogs and sparkling water. Learn more about him here.

¹ Gratitude Photo (2015). @jonjonlannen. Retrieved from Instagram.
² Church Photo (2016). @jonjonlannen. Retrieved from Instagram.
³ Morgan Freeman still, The Story of God (2016). National Geographic via SkyGo. Retrieved from SkyGo.
? iO Chicago Photo (2015). @jonjonlannen. Retrieved from Instagram.

Improv is like Religion

Improv and religion go hand in hand. Now, I know, yo’ mama told you not to talk about religion and politics, but this blog throws mama’s sentiment out of the window. Don’t want to read about improv & religion? Click the ? in the top right corner and Bye Felicia.

Gratitude. ¹

Gratitude. ¹

Improv, for many, can be a religious experience. For those of you involved, you know the feeling – you take a good class with a great instructor, you want to tell everyone about it; you perform a show, you want to blast in on facebook. For those of you not directly involved also know the feeling – that improviser is contagiously pushing you to perform, take classes or be the ear for improv excitement. Similarly, people involved in deep religious beliefs do the same – they may hear a good sermon and want to tell everyone about it; they read an inspiring quote or passage, they want as many people to know on social media or in person. Hell, some even knock on your damn door their so excited.

 

The fun is always on the other side of  YES.
-Martin DeMatt

Last month, the National Geographic Channel premiered an insightful series hosted by arguably the most recognizable voices, Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman hosts The Stories of God and dives deep, deep into God and religion. If you have not had an opportunity to see it, check it out. There was a similar television series by the same name produced by BBC. The show The Stories of God is a captivating journey into religion and its many forms. Freeman travels the globe in the hopes to learn about one thing: God.

Morgan Freeman hosts National Geographic’s Story of God. ³

Different traditions; different languages; different names for God; different types of architecture; different geography; different cultures; different prayers; different chants; different emphasises; one God. Despite their countless differences, all of the believers Morgan Freeman spoke to a higher being, a higher power. For the lack of better words, one magical spirit that provides the soul peace.

Beautiful church in Minneapolis. ²

Hearing the eclectic group of spiritual leaders speak, there was a common thread. They were all declaring the same message, but simply conveying it through different forms. Remarkably, on a universal level, everybody believes the same thing. Religion evokes the thought that there is something beyond human life – something spiritually larger, indescribable by human perception.

Even more remarkably, the same is true for improvisation and the study of the art. In the most simplest of terms, improv is religion. It could be argued that the arts are the over-arching religion, but this analogy is far more microscopic on the improvisational theater community and its reach. At the end of the day, every improviser, everywhere in the world, believes in something beyond goofy-character-work, pantomine-where-work or raw scene-work; everyone believes in Improv.

Different theaters have different warm-ups; different leaders; different shows; different names for games; different spaces; different geography; different audiences; different emphasises; one Improv. Much like The Stories of God spotlights, everyone, in the grand scheme of things, believes in the same indescribable being; improv. Chicago is a great example of this analogy at work. There are many wonderful theaters in the city of Chicago – including Annoyance Theater, ComedySportz, Improv Den, iO Chicago, Stage 773, The Playground, The Second City, Under the Gun Theater to name a few, truly. The cultivation of such a vibrant and diverse community comes from the same belief [improv], but emanate that [improv] belief in different forms. Different delivery and theory prominence; same message.

iO Chicago.

iO Chicago. ¹¹

Improvisation is a unique form of theatrical comedy. There are theaters where the primary goal for the improv comedy ensembles is to make the audiences laugh. There are experimental ensembles with the only intention to make the audience feel an emotion, without an emphasis on laughter. Some productions have a more humble approach; using improvisation as therapy. Others use the art of improvisational theater as entertaining, high-end productions like The Second City and Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

The key is every interpretation has a place in the improv world.

Denver’s improv circuit is booming and has sundry selection for education and live comedy, unique for a growing city. There are incredible things happening in and around Denver. The marijuana legalization has opened a niche for comedy shows centered around cannabis. Theaters all over Mile High City – like the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse – offer classes and shows. Like religion, explore all of the improv you can find. Read, learn, do.

Knowing what theory or belief you want to follow begins with being informed and educated; this art is your journey. Follow your heart and surround yourself with the community that vibrates your soul. Why? Improv.

Jon Jon Lannen chibi headshot
Jon Jon Lannen is a writer, performer and instructor at Voodoo Comedy. He loves improv, dogs and sparkling water. Learn more about him here.

 

¹ Gratitude Photo (2015). @jonjonlannen. Retrieved from Instagram.
² Church Photo (2016). @jonjonlannen. Retrieved from Instagram.
³ Morgan Freeman still, The Story of God (2016). National Geographic via SkyGo. Retrieved from SkyGo.
¹¹ iO Chicago Photo (2015). @jonjonlannen. Retrieved from Instagram.

Mother of Improv

In honor of the Mother’s Day holiday [May 8th, 2016] this edition will highlight the mother of improvisation; Viola Spolin. Viola Spolin, who lived until 88, passing in 1994, was a distinguished educator and acting coach influencing what many today refer to as improv [improvisational theater/improvisational comedy]. Her legacy has continued to thrive through live performance, theory advancement and theater education.
Spolin - Source: Robert Loerzel

Viola Spolin and her contagious spirit.³

 

Viola Spolin was a major force in the early 1900s inspiring modern-day improvisation. Referred to as the “high priestess of improvisation,” Spolin was influential creating and catapulting improv to the mainstream. Her reach was far beyond the theater community. It is safe to assume anyone involved in either the arts and/or education has heard of the mother of improv. Spolin’s theater theory was and is far beyond the stage.

“The techniques of the theater are the techniques of communicating.”

 

The mother of improv was well-respected in theater, sure, but Viola Spolin was also passionate about using the tools of improvisational comedy to inspire generations of children. She taught to established [adult] theater ensembles, but her heart always directed her instruction to the younger folks. Spolin used her invented games for outreach education with delinquent teens, who also may be suffering with mental health afflictions – all the way to furthering the talents of ‘gifted and talented’ students. Her work spans decades and shaped many minds.

According to the Northwestern University Library’s analysis, known as the Guide to the Viola Spolin Papers¹ , Spolin has been influential in improv in Chicago and beyond: “Born in Chicago in 1906, Spolin is best known as the creator of theater games, originally created as a series of exercises to aid students in the study of drama. In 1955, Spolin conducted workshops for the Playwrights Theater Club, and later at the Compass Theater. In 1960 she began running improvisation workshops for the cast of Second City. As an outgrowth of her work with Second City, Spolin published Improvisation for the Theater in 1963, which resulted in much critical acclaim and solidified her reputation in improvisational theater. Her papers include writings, transcriptions, interviews, journals, drafts of theater games, and other materials that chronicle her work in improvisation and educational theater.” For an in-depth breakdown of the Viola Spolin Papers, please click here to be redirected to the Northwestern University Library archive.

“Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves.”

 

Spolin didn’t just teach, she also wrote. Her teachings can be found in many of her in-depth books- including Improvisation for the Theater; Theater for the Classroom; Theater Games for the Lone Actor; Theater Games for Rehearsal; Theater Game File. Improvisation for the Theater is arguably the best book she wrote. Even today, the book sits at number one on the Amazon Performing Arts book category.

The Spolin non-profit website² indicates Spolin’s, “teaching methods [are] non-authoritarian, non-verbal, and non-psychological.” Viola Spolin had a heart of gold and a true knack for instruction. The biography for the “high priestess of improvisational theater” can be found here. The family continues to keep Viola Spolin’s legacy alive by continuing to teach her theater technique and philosophies through the down-to-earth [Paul Sills’] Wisconsin Theater Game Center in Bailey’s Harbor, WI, the youth programs in Los Angeles, CA & Chicago, IL along with nationwide tours of The Spolin Workshop. For more information on the Viola Spolin outreach programs, please click here.

The best gift Viola Spolin could have asked for on Mother’s Day is to have her message and love for the art of improvisational theater spread by her literal and figurative children. What a gift. Whereas many people must still learn about Spolin and her influence, there are a bounty of souls – performers, educators, and students – that have the mother of improv to thank.

Happy Mother’s Day, Viola!

 

Jon Jon Lannen chibi headshot
Jon Jon Lannen is the best-selling author of the Giraffe children’s book series. He is an instructor, performer and writer for the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. More on him here.




¹ Northwestern University Library (1925-2003). Guide to the Viola Spolin Papers. Retrieved from the NULIB website.
² Viola Spolin (2016). Viola Spolin Biography. Retrieved from the Viola Spolin website.
³ Robert Loerzel (2012). Viola Spolin; Pioneer of Chicago Improv. Retrieved from the RL website.

A Conversation with Mick Napier

This post is the most special yet. If you have been involved in improv for any period of time, when someone says the name Mick Napier it rings more than a bell. If you don’t know who he is, get yo’self educated here. Mick Napier is arguably one of the most powerful forces in modern improvisation… and the most real. Napier owns and operates the Annoyance Theater, with locations in Chicago and New York City. Voodoo Comedy had the honor to sit down with Mick Napier and is proud to present this Colorado exclusive, A Conversation with Mick Napier.

Mick Napier - Chicago Tribune Source -

Mick Napier
Source: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune
If there is one thing I was able to observe when I first met Mick in Chicago was that he was humble and raw. Take it or leave it. That uncanny persona, in a world of fabricated positivity, made a niche for itself in Chicago when the legendary Annoyance theater opened in 1989. The Annoyance opened with Co-Ed Prison Sluts with an all-star cast with a unique twist on comedy in the windy city. That take-no-prisoners show catapulted the Annoyance to local fame- leading to a recognizable international brand, as it pertains to comedy. Beyond Annoyance Theater, Mick Napier has consulted and directed for the world famous [the] Second City.

The way Mick Napier approaches improv comedy is grounding, yet uplifiting. Napier has directed and instructed many notable names including Steve Carrell, Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey and Amy Sedaris. To name a few; a very, very few. His no-nonsense approach has led to people flocking to Chicago to learn from him and his book is every improviser’s must-have. Mick Napier is one hell of a teacher, with one hell of a global reach. Beyond improvisation, Napier teaches people how to be better people.

Mick Napier’s first book, Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out, quickly became many people’s improv bible. Stephen Colbert even wrote the foreword for the title. The detail and raw nature of the book made it a must-have book for any improv comedian. So, when Mick Napier announced the release of his follow-up book, the improv world rejoiced. Mick, who won a Joseph Jefferson Award for Directing, provides a deeper look at improvisation in Behind The Scenes: Improvising Long Form. Released by Meriweather Publishing this past January, Behind The Scenes: Improvising Long Form is available on Amazon and select retailers.

Voodoo Comedy had the privilege to sit down with Mick Napier exclusively to speak about his book and philosophy of improv.

I’ll fan-girl here. Improvise is my improv bible. What inspired you to write Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out?
I wanted to collect my thoughts and theories about improvisation and I just started writing. I ironically thought, also, that documenting it would lessen my need to clarify certain teachings about improv, but it just opened up more doors and questions. I had the book mostly written 3 years before I published it. I had promised Martin de Maat, perhaps the greatest teacher of improvisation, not to publish mine until after he published his. He passed away in 2001 so I went ahead and finished it.

That is incredible. What was the focus of Behind the Scenes? Why did you write it?
There’s a few of reasons. One is that I wanted our community to look at long form improvisation as a commercially accessible entertainment product. Sometimes I think we treat it as an insider’s improv experience that is foreign to all but improvisers who see it. Another reason is to provide tips for performers performing long form in order to make it better and funnier. And lastly, I wanted to take a look at the psychology of long form, from what one might be thinking in the back line to the invitation to be funny with your improv.

Who was your most inspirational teacher?
As mentioned before, Martin de Maat. I would introduce him to people like this: “This is Martin de Maat. He’s the greatest teacher of improvisation in the world. You could (granted sometime annoyingly) go out to dinner and he would be inspiring the waitress to live her dreams, etc. He not only taught improvisation in a very positive manner, he taught life. When you took his class there’s a good chance your life would change a bit for the better.

Martin de Maat has left such a legacy, no doubt. You’ve shared friendships and the stage with colossal talent. Who were some of your favorite folks to perform or work with?
I have been lucky to work with some of the funniest people in contemporary American comedy in the last quarter century. I don’t know if I can pin-point anyone, per-se. Of those you may have heard of, I think there’s a good possibility that Amy Sedaris is the funniest person I’ve worked with. Stephen Colbert is as kind as he seems. He’s for real. On the newer scene, Conner O’Malley of Late Night with Seth Myers is painfully funny, as is his beautiful and kind girlfriend Aidy Bryant. When people ask me “What’s if like to work with whoever?”, I say, “It’s exactly like working with you right now”.

When people work with you, what is it that you want people to take away?
That is such a good question. I want people to think of me as kind to work with, professional, and protective of their work and voice. I think I would also like them to regard me as someone who fucks around just the right amount and is funny. When I direct a show, Funny is everything to me. And when I direct a show, Beauty is everything to me.

I love me some Mick. Take your work seriously, but don’t forget to fuck around while doing it.

For more information on Mick Napier, please visit the Annoyance page by clicking here. To purchase his new book Behind the Scenes: Improvising Long Form, please click here.

Jon Jon
Jon Jon Lannen is a writer, performer and instructor at the Voodoo. He loves improv and fizzy drinks… a lot. More on him here.

Love and Improv

Most people that get involved in the art of improv typically have an immediate affectionate for the form. Improv and Love go hand in hand, really. In honor of the commercialized Valentine’s Day holiday, this blog is dedicated to love and basketball, err improv.

The Voodoo Comedy Playhouse’s School of Improv explains to everyone who walks through the theater doors that improv is everyone’s own journey. Some folks do it for therapeutic reasons, some for psychological, some for confidence and some who simply enjoy entertaining people- and some do it for all those reasons. There are an array of reason why everyday folk get involved in improv comedy and end up loving it.

St. Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us and I had the honor to sit down and have some pizza with the wonderful teachers of the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse and asked them all why they love improv and/or what they love most about the craft.

Misty Saribal, a experienced performer and instructor, tells the group, “I love improv because it gets me in touch with my inner child, that radical kid who wasn’t afraid to talk with spaghetti sauce on her face.” Harnessing the inner child yields for amazing results on and off stage. Misty is one of two Level 1 improv instructors at the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. She goes on to tell us what she loves most about improv, “I get in touch with ancient ways of knowing and being known: narrative, embodiment, and intuition. The magical moments of connection in improv make me feel really alive in a dangerous, wholehearted, adrenaline-pumped kind of way. What can I say? Improv is my medicine, and my most favorite thing to share with people.” As you see, for Misty improv is like medicine and the connection is one of the most important pieces to her journey.

I met Nick Trotter a few years ago and I love him as much as he loves improv. Trotter is one of two Level 2 instructors, alongside Voodoo staple David Schultz. With a strong background in clown performance and connecting to the audience on a deeper level, he explains, “What I love most about improv is that it is a live event. It was not taped yesterday, or ten years ago. It was not written in the past for some other audience. It happens in the here-and-now, involving all of the people in this very room, and it will never happen again. It has the immediacy and the high stakes of sports. It is the essence of theatre, and it does what no other art or medium can do: Be. Here. Now.” It’s true. Improv is all about remaining in the moment and this level 2 teacher explains it in the best way possible. Be here now.

“I love improv because it is a fun and creative way to practice being in the present moment,” seconds Heather Curran, the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse’s Level 3 improv teacher. Curran is one of the most dynamic, in-the-moment performers in the Denver scene. She tells us, “I love coming on stage with an idea and having it turn out completely different than what I expected because my scene partner and I discovered something original together.” Coming together as a group enables performers to not only elevate others, but have confidence in what gifts they bring to the stage as individuals.

Allison Learned‘s journey is similar to Misty’s in that she indicates, “I’ve not matured past 6 years old, so play time in strange lands of our mind’s make believe is quite delightful for my brain.” Allison comes from a diverse background in theater and provides a unique perspective on improvisation. She is Voodoo’s School of Improv’s Level 4 instructor. “I love watching people find freedom in creating concepts and realities that would be scoffed at elsewhere but in improv they are loved, desired and respected!” In most cases people will look crazy, but not in improv. In improv, everything is a vital piece to the show.

“I love improv because it gives us the chance to tell the honest truth. So often in life, we are scared to tell the truth, or unable, or unsure of what the truth even is. Improv forces us to slow down and accept the reality of what’s in front of us, and to respond with fierce honesty. That honesty may be funny, or heartbreaking, or empowering, or joyous. But it will always be a powerful experience,” says Owner and Level 5 instructor Steve Wilder. Wilder is right, the art of improv teaches everyone how to live more truthfully. His passion for the art is addicting telling us all, “What I love most about improv is that it is truly an equal opportunity art form! Anyone can do it and do it well. We all progress at different speeds, so what comes naturally to some may prove more difficult for others. But ultimately, if you put in the work and dedicate yourself to it, you will become a master improviser.” There is no better way to put it. Improv is for everyone, so give it a whirl.

In the comment section below tell us why you love improv!

There are countless different improv schools and workshops in and around Denver. For more information on the classes held at Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, please click here.

Jon Jon
Jon Jon Lannen a writer and teacher living in Denver, Colorado. He currently instructs, performs and writes for Voodoo Comedy. Learn more about Jon Jon here.

Five Reasons to do Improv

As a level one improv instructor, I see many students find improv from various walks of life. Improvisation can bring together eclectic, diverse people to reach a common goal. Talk to anyone that has tried improv and they’ll likely tell you it rocks their world because many tenets of a good improviser also happen to be what leads to being a good person. Improv can teach one a lot and in this edition, I wanted to explore my five reasons to do improv.

“Yes and” philosophy!
This is the premise behind all improvisation. Every school, institution and method uses “yes and” as the basis in the lesson of improv comedy. By saying “yes!”, improvisers become empowered and build together. The “and” component adds on to the initial idea. When everyone “yes ands” ideas, marvelous, unexpected things can occur.

Be more of a team player!
Improvisation can teach everyone this fundamental lesson. Many improv schools refer to this as groupmind. Groupmind is when the entire group of individuals are working towards a goal; highlighting others. Improv stresses the idea of elevating others. By making your fellow castmates look good, the ensemble looks good. It’s like a sport, all about support. Improv can be instrumental in teaching everyone how to truly be a fundamental piece to the team.

In the moment, be adaptable to change!
It is natural to be thinking about everything except what is in front of you. Improvisational comedy is an in-the-moment art. Nothing can be preconceived or planned. This enables a person to be wildly adaptive to change. By remaining in the moment and being okay with the idea of things developing into new, unpredictable choices.

Listen better!
Listening is a crucial piece to any improv scene. Being coached on the skill of listening furthers the goal of working in the moment. Often times people, while others are speaking, are already planning what they will say. Improv forces students to truly listen and respond genuinely. Dialog can go far deeper when the root is hearing what the other person is saying. Improv helps anyone truly listen better.

It’s fun!
One of the most influential improv instructors I’ve had the honor to work with was Susan Messing. Messing has arguably the best philosophy: If you are not having fun then you are the asshole. At the end of the day, the primary reason anyone does improv is to have fun. Fun is the name of the game. Don’t be the asshole.

There you have it, five reason to give improv comedy a whirl. It should be known that there are countless other reasons to do improv, this was a mere five. Many cities across the country offer improv classes these days. Locally, The Voodoo Comedy Playhouse’s School of Improv offers a five-level curriculum. Click here to learn more about improv class as Voodoo. You can also join in on a relaxed drop-in every Monday and Tuesday. Learn more about drop-ins here.

Moral of the story? Try improv.

Jon Jon
Jon Jon Lannen is a instructor, performer and writer for the Voodoo Comedy Playhouse. He has written three books. More about him here.