The Most Interesting Person in the World

Archive for October 2010

Dear Improv Lady,

None of my friends will play improv games with me, or none that I would want to see me try and fail. Are there any exercises I can try on my own?


Dear Someday,

First and foremost, there is no such thing as failure in improv. There are less-than-strong choices, but there are no wrong choices. It is the responsibility of your scene partner(s) to support you in any choice you make, so if your performance doesn’t go as well as it should, they are just as much to blame for not justifying your words and actions. And the same goes for you supporting your scene partners.

That said, there is a lot to do on your own. Try speaking (or writing) a monologue where every sentence begins with “I love,” or “I believe,” or “I am.” Get creative.

To practice your speaking skills, deliver a speech where your only words are counting the numbers 1-100. Make it apparent when you are telling a joke, making a point, starting a new topic, coming to the conclusion, etc. Notice your body language.

Jump into a character and speak for 30 seconds. You don’t have to speak the whole time. You can be speaking to yourself, to someone else, to G-d, or nothing at all. At 30 seconds, switch into a new character. Change the energy–if you were sitting at the last one, stand; if you were a quiet character, be loud; if you were slow, speak quickly; mix it up with accents, different ages and physicalities. Keep doing this for as long as you like–you’ll be surprised at what you can come up with!

For more solo improv exercises, see the back of Mick Napier’s book, “Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out.” I hope that helps. Let me know how the experience goes!

The Improv Lady

Yesterday, people the world over celebrated the Grand Birthday of Lauren B. Stein. Guests travelled in from Thornhill, Mississauga, Kitchener, Detroit, and Texas to party it up with me in Kensington Market!

Kicking off the festivities, Steve Murray, the mayoral non-candidate, delivered a speech at *Hotshot about my greatness, and how, when he becomes mayor, he will kick out of Toronto all the people who aren’t great like him and myself.

Then began the Treasure Hunt. Each guest was given a coupon and a clue, and we all had to find our location in Kensington Market to perform a task. Adam and William found the aquariums at the back of Caam United Hardware store. At the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture, Cassaundra led us in some improvised poetry, with everyone getting a chance to take the stage. Tammy found Akram’s Shoppe on Baldwin, where Hayim, whose name means “Above Love”, gave us Mediterranean treats while we serenaded her. Myles and Gilleen found the trippy Indian bike at Red Arrow Bikes, and Eve led a few dances for Sarah at The Rage while Jeremy kept watch outside. We stopped at Tibet Café to chant for serenity and peace, then Salvador led us to Rare Earth Organics, where we learned about cacti from Allen the painter, and discovered where you can buy peyote. Brita flew to Fairies Pyjamas and took a snooze on their front porch. At Herbs International, Bonnie had to identify 3 herbs to get our mini-treasure chest. She led us in some improvised story-telling, with each person pulling an object from the chest to incorporate into their sentence. When the story was over… one object remained, which was the key to our BIG reveal at the end!

Then, Janet brought us to Bellevue Square Park, where we sat under Al Waxman (the King of Kensington) and learned that Madonna and other pop culture figures of 1984 are NOT the same as Indira Gandhi and other political figures of 1984. We returned to Tibet Café for tea and realized that two professional photographers had been trailing us all day. More joined for dinner at Kensington Cornerstone, where David and Ada very graciously hosted our large and rambunctious crew.

Thanks to everyone who came to make this birthday party spectacular! And for those who missed the chance to hear the BIG reveal… you too will find out soon enough!

Dear Improv Lady,

You say that you can use improv to solve any problem in the world. Well, I have a question for you. How do you break the ice? For example, with someone you know and talk to regularly but never become close to?



Dear Spinderella,

It’s true that there is no problem that can’t be solved with improv–at least, no problem worth solving can’t be solved with improv.

If you are talking with someone that you’ve just met, or you see regularly but haven’t yet probed the insides of his/her mind, it might be good to strike up a game of questions. One such game is “If…?” You take turns thinking up questions such as, “If you could be the leader of a country for a day, which country would you choose?” or “If you could invent a new animal, what would it look like and what noise would it make?” Another good game is “Would you rather…?” For example, “Would you rather have the job of your dreams and be lonely, or the perfect marriage and be poor?” or “Would you rather have a shaved head that never grows back, or walk around backwards for the rest of your life?”

Also, if you’re finding it hard to get to know people, be aware of how much you listen versus how much you talk in a conversation, and switch it. For example, if you tend to be more shy and wait for the other person to speak (as I suspect you are), try starting a conversation by giving information about yourself–that will bring out the other person’s desire to share information about themself. Or, if you tend to hog the conversation (as I do), next time try holding back a bit and focus on listening to what the other person is saying. It helps to start with something you both have in common, such as if you both love the computer-animated Canadian TV show ReBoot. That creates a common bond already, plus it helps to talk about something that you enjoy talking about (such as ReBoot.)

The Improv Lady

Meeting new people in any situation is hard. Meeting lots of new people, in a cocktail party-style environment, can be the epitome of awkward. Everybody wants to quickly ascertain how impressive you are, before deciding whether to continue talking to you, or allow themselves to get distracted by that amazing thing over there. If you lack confidence in yourself, rightly or wrongly, people are going to lose confidence in you, too. With the right amount of charm, and something to back it up, if you walk around with the attitude of, “Yeah, I know I’m awesome,” you will find people flocking to you in awe and asking, “How are you so awesome?”

It may be a matter of simply deciding to act more confident from now on. But, if you’re not Chuck Norris or Lauren Stein, it may take a little work to get used to this new mindset. One improv game that I like to use for this is Ask the Expert (referred to in some communities as Dr. Know-It-All.) This one you can try at home, and I’ll tell you how.

You have been appointed the expert on some topic. To start, pick an animal. Now think of an activity that this animal doesn’t normally do (such as a kangaroo playing chess, or an otter on the bagpipes, for instance.) Explain to your mirror just how you trained this animal to do this activity, how long it took you, some scientific facts behind it, or one particular story from your experience. Discuss the book you’ve written which will be launched later in the fall. Talk to that mirror like you can answer any of its questions. After all, you are the Expert.

Now, if you’re ready to answer someone else’s questions, let me know and we can set up an interview. If you would like to try it on a panel, or while speaking gibberish, or while trying to speak at the same time as someone else, come to an improv workshop, and you will be impressed when you find out how much you didn’t know that you knew. And you will definitely walk away with something to tell people at cocktail parties!