How long have you been doing improv?
Seven years. Though I performed unscripted theater for many years before that and competed improv competitions when I was in school, but the real deal started in a class taught by Tami Nelson in 2008.
What is your preferred style of play?
I’m teaching a workshop on styles of strength because I love different playing styles! My current improv passion is mastering versatility; being capable of enjoying playing a silly light game of the scene just as much as emotionally powerful grounded improv.
What makes a great improv scene?
A great improv scene is two or more people on stage going for the same goal and getting there together.
What makes a great improv show?
Its a great improv show when the audience cares a lot about what happens. The audience may be riveted because they can’t stop laughing, or they believe the reality of the piece, or they are impressed by the performer’s bravery, or their skill – but the important part is that the audience is “buying in” to the show as much as the performers are. When an audience forgets to take pictures, but remembers the details of what they loved in the show, that’s been a damn fine improv show.
Tell us about your master class “Your Strength, To The Max”. What can students expect to get out of it?
I’ve taught improv in a lot of contexts. I’ve instructed corporate improv workshops for engineers, marketers, salespeople, clergy, and people who work places that have “capital” and “energy” in the names, I teach improv at a University, I’ve taught festival workshops for years, and of course created a curriculum for the comedy theater I founded. As different as those groups are, I believe something everyone wants to get out of improv is a chance to know themselves better. So that is a main goal of this workshop; to give attendees a chance to find out what is unique about them and how they naturally do improv. My other conviction is that improvisers really start to soar when they can play with people who approach things differently than them. So “Your Strength to the Max” is geared to let people find and master what they naturally do best and then help them see how to use those skills to help them enjoy playing with anybody.
You are also teaching another class on Saturday. Tell us about your “Captivating” workshop.
I can’t say too much about the “Captivating” workshop. Most of it is secret and can only be revealed in the class, so in a way, anything could happen. Sword swallowing does feature prominently as does Mr. Rogers. I’ll say this though, the workshop covers the most overlooked part of an improv scene and guides the participants toward mastering something few improvisers can do.
What are you most excited about for Improv Wins?
I am most excited about seeing friends, playing, and teaching in this magnificent new TNM theater during the first ever New Orleans Improv Wins Conference! I love to be there at the start of great things; its a pattern for me.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received for the stage?
When I first started doing improv I was very critical on myself about my performance after almost every improv show. It was very hard for me to take compliments from fellow performers or audience members. Tej, a performer I respected, lost his patience with me and said exasperatedly “Love what you do!” I enjoyed doing improv, but I let self-criticism ruin it for me. That advice was simple but sound; love what you do.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give?
Strive to act with integrity and extravagant generosity – improvise the same way.
Shyla Ray will teach a workshop entitled “Captivating” at 11:30am on Saturday as part of the basic Improv Wins conference pass. She will also be teaching a Master Class on Sunday at 2pm entitled “Your Strength, To The Max”. Signup at www.ImprovWins.com.