Category Archives: IMPROV

Improv saves lives: expat edition

I haven’t had a chance to perform any improv on stage for the last two years, but I wanted to share with you how much the improv I did with the Brave New Workshop Student Union and HUGE Theater changed my life path and made things imminently more awesome.

  1. Yes, and. The basic foundation of an improv scene is that one person makes a declaration and the second person builds on it. Then the first person builds on that – and off you go. As a new improvisor, I believed this meant that I should learn to stop saying, “No, that isn’t true.” As a human being, I take it now to mean this: whenever I am flexible of mind enough to understand that the perspective of my conversation partner is a valid world view, I can affirm that position even if I think s/he is wrong.
  2. Embrace a collaborative world view. In an improv scene, the world that is created is necessarily determined by the input of everyone on the stage. Just like in real life, you don’t get a say in how the story around you develops if you don’t open up your face and add something. While practicing improv, I learned to practice fearlessness and let go of self-judgement while exercising my voice. These qualities are essential to surviving as an expat: when you don’t speak up for yourself, you get steamrolled verbally and socially and live in a world that someone else created for you.
  3. Laughter is as essential as water. During my first weeks of class, I laughed harder at myself and the silly things we did and said than I’d laughed the entire previous year. Ridiculous became reality for minutes at a time and I had the chance to look at my assumptions and prejudices in a different space. I am ridiculous: my world view is limited as are the world views of everyone around me – we are shaped by our experiences, and those experiences limit our vision. You can’t see what you don’t know exists — until someone throws it in your face and you have to respond to it somehow. And then laugh because – wow. That’s there. That’s a thing that happened. As an expat, all I can do is laugh sometimes because the constrained rules of living abroad require patience and good humor unless you want the stress to kill you with an aneurism, an ulcer, or a leap from a tall bridge.
  4. Listening is more important than speaking. In all sorts of comedy, there’s this thing called a callback that’s basically remembering a small thing someone mentioned earlier in a scene and using it as a punchline again later. Here in Abu Dhabi, I’m the punchline if I don’t remember all the little details going on around me – and information about how things get done is passed on in snippets of conversations and hints from people who’ve done them before. People want to share information, but don’t explain themselves the way I’m used to. All feelers have to be out for anything to make sense.
  5. You can be scared, but there’s nothing to be scared of. Being the center of attention during a scene for the first time was kind of terrifying. I had no idea what I was going to say. Then I opened up my face and said things, then my scene partners said things, and we just kept going – and then the audience laughed. It was magic. The first time I went shopping to buy fabric for a new dress, I realized that I had to haggle with the vendor over price and quality and I had no idea how to do it. In the US, price is price and the person at the cash register has no control over it. In Abu Dhabi, the guy behind the counter can make any deal he wants and can spot a newbie walking in the door. Arabian confidence and bluster can really rattle a girl! I was raised to be polite! And even though I’m opinionated, I didn’t want to be rude and say no! But then I realized I didn’t have to give him my money if I didn’t want what he was selling – and I opened up my face and started haggling. I got what I wanted, he got what he wanted, and the floor didn’t open up and swallow me because I was doing something I’d never done before. Then I got to haggle with a tailor and get a pretty new dress. I’d call that an all around win.

So, yeah: Improv. You should try it sometime. Today, November 15th, is Give To The Max day in Minnesota – the biggest fundraising day of the year. If you’ve got a spare 10 bucks to support the people who bring these life lessons to anyone who shows up, please go see a show at the Brave New Institute or HUGE Theater. OR: click on over to these donation pages and support the venues who keep the funny performances and life changing classes happening all year round.

HUGE Theater: IMPROVATHON – 24 hours of improv. $20,000 goal.

Brave New Institute: adult classes for school teachers (like me!)

Life of Art interview: Mike Fotis

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now?

My name is Mike Fotis. I live in Minneapolis. North Minneapolis to be
exact.  I am a writer/comedian/improviser. My head is kept dry and my
belly is kept full because of my job as the Co – Director of the Brave
New Workshop’s Student Union. That fancy title means I help run our
school of improvisation.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

My creative practice is simply this. JUST DO SOMETHING. My instinct is
to not do anything until all of the answers in my head have been
answered, until I think my plan is flawless. That’s dangerous for me
because it completely stalls me. Just create something. I know that
sounds cheesy, but fuck. Don’t be perfect. That’s boring.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from my comedian pals. I like to be around people
who are passionate about their craft. It helps me feel a little more

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Read my post about creative practice.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

I get away from it. I swim. I play sports. I watch a baseball or
football game. I can’t be around art all the time.

What does success look like to you?

In some ways, I feel like I’m at the very beginning of my success. My
goal is to support myself as an artist and I’m very lucky to be doing
that. I love my job. LOVE IT. Moving forward success will mean that
I’m able to continue growing the school while still expanding my
opportunities to branch into other endeavors.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

That comedy is hard to do. And that smart comedy doesn’t exist. There
are probably other things too.


I can’t tell you how glad I am that Mike was willing to answer my questions – he’s one of my favorite Twin Cities comedians and improvisers. One of his current projects is a podcast for METRO Magazine called the Mike Fotis Storytime Explosion. If you’d like to hear Mike interview me about being a teacher, click here!


Life of Art interview: Heather Meyer

Who are you and where is “here” for you right now? 

I am a playwright and actor and improvisor. I also work with The National Theatre for Children as a production associate creating educational comedy shows that tour around the country.

What is your creative practice and what have you learned from it?

Heather. Chicken. Cat. Comedy gold.

I work best when I have a lot of things happening. You know that saying that goes something like “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”? Well, that is how I have recently realized I work best. So I fill my time up pretty well and then give myself short deadlines to produce work. I also find that improv is like working out, it keeps a lot of gears and muscles in shape for both the actor part of me and the writer part.


Where do you find inspiration?

Eavesdropping on strangers.

How do you overcome the creative barriers you encounter?

Usually, I just push the cat off of my laptop.

How do you regenerate when feeling artistically depleted?

Doing other things. Like entering a cake into the MN state fair (I did not win a ribbon) or learning hula-hoop tricks. I also have a blog that I self-indulge all over the place on

What does success look like to you?

I like when people remember my name after I meet them.

What do you want people to know about you and your work?

Usually it’s concise and a little funny.


Thanks much, Heather! In case you’re not a Minnesotan, her MN Fringe show – Your Responsibility for Sex Failure – was a total hit this summer. Congrats!

Winter improv schedule

For those of you who are dying to see me do some improv with my dynamo Six Ring Circus team, The Senate, here is the schedule of upcoming shows:

Six Ring Circus — all shows are Tuesday nights, start at 7:30 at the Brave New Workshop, and cost ONE DOLLAR.

January 18, February 15, March 1, March 22, and April 5

AND! The Senate is performing during Improv a Go Go at HUGE Theater in January. All shows are Sunday nights, starting at 8:00 pm, and cost ONE DOLLAR.

January 16, January 23, and January 30

Lots of shows coming up! This one is next


Friday, January 7, 2011 · 8:00pm – 11:00pm

Lowry Lab Theatre
350 St. Peter Street
Saint Paul, MN

The Lowry Lab Theater is THRILLED to announce the inauguration of a new monthly comedy series cleverly entitled “Lowry Lab Laughs”.

Please join host Zach Coulter and a stellar lineup of funny people for an evening of mirth and merriment.

The evening will feature the standup comedy of…

Amber Preston
Colleen Doyle Justice
Gus Lynch
Jenn Schaal
Mike Lester

As well as improv from Dave Kappelhoff and The Senate!!

Tix are $12/$10 with a Fringe button

Libations will be available for a (small) donation.