An improv friend interviewed me for a uni paper. I found my answers particularly insightful 🙂
How did you get involved with improv?
1. Way back in the day, I was dating a guy who did semi-improvised murder mysteries. One night an actor went down at the last minute. Hal and Kathi Kerbes asked Len if his girlfriend was available to to hop in the back of a van and look at a “script” on the way to Edson. That led to 20 years with Shadow Productions. We generally got the script an hour before the show, while we were strapping on our tights and corsets at the Deane House. There was a loose outline of a scene, you tried to remember the three points you had to get out to the audience, and usually something funny happened along the way. There was a ton of audience interaction and I learned how to just be someone else for a long time. I learned a ton about character, maintaining a through line, and working with people up close.
Then 18 years ago I got together with some actor friends who wanted to do an improvised soap opera, like the one they do in Edmonton, Die-Nasty. It started in a now defunct media bar. It then merged with Loose Moose for one season. It then split off and became Dirty Laundry. We did shows in a cafe on Centre Street where we had to build the stage every night on top of a pool table, with the overhead lights clanging around our ears. We could fit about 6 paying customers in the audience. Then we moved to an underground bar that eventually got locked down by the Sheriff. We were briefly at Ceili’s, then we found a permanent home at Lunchbox Theatre, where we still are today, every Monday night. Chris Enright and I are two of the oldest fogeys that have been with the company since its inception.
Much later I met Jason Lewis at bar where I was doing some underground marketing research/ beer espionage for Big Rock Brewery. He asked me to do an improv show with him and Owen for a Circus in Inglewood. We were introduced as “The Patriarchy.” The rest is history 🙂
What were your initial goals as an improviser?
2. My initial goals in improv were pretty vague. I liked doing it. I wanted to do more of it. I wanted to get better at it. When Dirty Laundry started, we called it “bowling night for actors,” because it was a social night out for us, on Mondays when the other theatres were dark. We were all primarily actors who also loved improv, so for us an improvised soap meant that we could really develop our characters over time, which was super fun. I spent a season as a mangey dog in Al Capone’s tunnels in Saskatchewan in the dirty 30s. I was an alien security officer/cruise director in space. I was a ghost one year. For me, I always want to find something to dig into that’s got a few levels to it. I like giving myself silly challenges. Like if you’re playing a ghost, you’re still a real person who just has certain limitations and abilities. Same with being a dog.
The big take away from all of it was simply that improv is acting, just faster. Instead of making decisions over weeks of rehearsals, you make them instantly. Who am I? What do I want? How am I going to get it? And all of that you discover in the moment. When I joined the Kinks, it was a whole new set of challenges, and I am still learning so much from these guys.
What’s your favourite/most important part?
3. My favourite part of improv, aside from the times when something goes brilliantly and it’s all magical and the audience is exploding and you’re like “yaaassss” – aside from that, which is awesome and addictive, my favourite part is the sense of community that is part and parcel of being an improviser. The support that all the players and students offer to each other is amazing. I always tell students that improv teaches you to be a better person, because the same skills that make you a great player are what make you a better human being: listening, supporting your partner, being present in the moment and accepting offers to see where they go. One of my improv heroes of all time is Patty Stiles. When you see her on stage, she is just brilliant, but if you look closely, she is never thinking about herself; she is always making someone else look amazing and supporting the other players. That kind of effortless generosity is something to aspire to, onstage and off. I feel that sort of mutual support all through the Kinkonauts, which is why shows and rehearsals and classes are my favourite part of any week.
What advice would you give yourself way back when?
4. If I could go back and give myself one piece of advice it would be to not take myself too seriously, and to be bold! Take up space and enjoy it! It’s the same advice I try to give myself today. I tend to set high standards for myself, and judge myself pretty heavily, which is a big block I am constantly trying to chip away at. I do much better when I give myself permission to just play and let go of worrying. We did an improv Shakespeare last week, which I dare say may be the best one we’ve ever done, in that it really honoured the medium and played with all the Shakespearean tropes, but it was also just delightful, playful, light and fun. My advice to others is what I tell myself every day: Take risks! The worst that can happen is that you fail. And if you can do that with grace and joy, something amazing is bound to happen.