by Kayla Lane Freeman
Since I started improv in Austin in late 2010, I’ve always been attracted to the diversity and cross-pollination of the Austin improv community. I studied at three different theaters, and I’ve performed at all five of them in town. I’ve made close friends and connections with people of widely varying play styles, philosophies and tastes. I’ve gluttonously sampled from the entire AIC buffet. A few months into my classes, one of my first teachers, Andy Crouch, deemed me “a lifer”, for it didn’t take me very long to be enraptured by this art of extemporaneous creation. Falling in love with improv happened alongside falling in love with Austin improv. The paths are so closely linked, that it’s hard for me to separate my affection for the two.
Because of this love, I’m incredibly excited to be a core cast member of this year’s 44-hour Improv Marathon. I volunteered and performed in the 42 and 43-hour marathons, and I believe this event truly typifies the variety and camaraderie that makes Austin improv so great. I’m excited to play formats I know I love (Coldtowne’s Bat), formats I’ve long wanted to try (Confidence Men’s Mamet), and the formats I think will be especially challenging for me (bring it on, Start Trekkin’). I’m one lucky cat. I get to do my favorite thing in the world for three days straight, while lieges of fun and talented people from all five theaters come to play with, challenge and support me and my sleep-deprived comrades.
Despite all my love for Austin Improv, I will be moving to Chicago about a week after the marathon wraps, for wanderlust knows no better host than a 21-year old with an arts and humanities degree and no appealing job prospects. Having never lived in a cold climate, I fear the day that I’ll long for the smothering oppression of triple-digit Texas heat and the odd sensation of sweating inside an air-conditioned space. But more so, I dread the day that the Midwest winters become routine, and I fall in love with Chicago. When that day comes, my heart really will be split in two. A part of me will always remain rooted deep in the heart of breakfast tacos, too many festivals, and the hodgepodge improv community that, to me, symbolizes Austin.
Performing in the 44-Hour Improv Marathon feels like a perfect sendoff — an excellent way to commemorate being a part of a community that I love so much. Improvisers, instead of making small talk with me at a party in some bar two weeks from now, I hope you’ll be playing in one of the shows over the course of the marathon weekend. And if not, I hope you come see a show. Even if I am psycho or sweaty or grumpy or exhausted, I know I will be happy to see you to say hello – and also to say goodbye.
The power of improv cannot be contained. When Hideout student and performer Menelaos Prokos moved back to Athens, he decided to start his own school of improvisation. Using all his Austin based experience and The Hideout’s curriculum as a starting point, his new school, ImproVibe, has really taken off.
Hideout Co-Owner Jessica Arjet decided to interview Menelaos to find out the hows and whys of ImproVibe.
1)You have a huge community of people that love you here, why did you decided to go home to Greece?
It’s true, I had built a life for myself in Austin. However, I felt I was lacking a lot of things that I could not find in Austin (or in the US, for that matter). Being a traveler at heart and having moved from continent to continent many a time, I decided it was the right moment for me to move on. The decision was not to move back to Greece though. At first, the plan was to spend a couple of weeks here and then keep traveling. I found lots of new elements here and, after having lived abroad for 13 years, I decided to stick around and re-discover Athens.
2) Why did you start an Improv School in Greece?
Having made up my mind about staying in Athens, I was not going to give improv up. I looked around for improv theaters, schools and troupes, but I found practically nothing. Bursting with desire to continue practicing it, and knowing how beneficial it can be to anyone who gets involved with it, I decided to take the leap and open Greece’s first improv school.
3) Are there differences in the Greek culture that make improv there any different than improv here?
It’s kinda hard to say, considering the fact that there simply is *no* improv here in Greece. There are some scattered classes here n there and a couple of troupes performing every once in a while, but there is no sense of community. I’d say that’s the biggest difference. In Austin, you start taking improv classes and you don’t just learn something new. You get instantly integrated in a massive, constantly growing, vibrant community of people who all know that they have at least one thing in common. My goal is to inspire the same kind of community here.
Other than that, the sense of humor is different, but since I’m familiar with both, it was never a hurdle for me.
4) What was it like starting your first class?
TERRIFYING!!! I did a dry run of a free intro class with my close friends and it went great. But then, when I held my first free intro class in front of 16 people I had never seen before, I tried (and luckily succeeded) real hard not to show how nervous I am. It all gets better class after class, but more than anything, it was the words of two people that helped me not be afraid. One was Jason Vines, who pointed out that not knowing how to do something is not a reason not to do it. The other was Keith Johnstone. While reading his book, Impro, I saw how he was often in a similar situation where he was often assigned to do tasks he had zero experience with. This gave me immense courage to move forward.
5) What has the reception been like?
Surprisingly huge! Before teaching the very first intro classes, I was thinking I’d need to add some friends of mine, along with whoever would sign up, in order to have a solid class of 12-14 people. After all, I was trying to convince people to get involved with something they knew nothing about. However, after only two free intro classes, I immediately had close to 30 students, that I had to divide into two groups. From that point on, it’s been going upwards. I now teach a total of 49 students, divided amongst 4 groups and it’s only been 4 months since my first class.
First crop of ImproVibe students, ready to do their first show.
Of course. My students are excited to start performing, even the ones that got in the classes without any intention to perform. Some groups have even named themselves. ImproVIBE’s new space is ideal. Not only can we do shows in our class space, but we also have a rooftop available which I will soon start converting into a bar with a stage. Greeks love rooftops, socializing at bars and watching performances. ImproVIBE’s space is able to combine all three and I am mega excited about this prospect.
7) Has the world wide improv community been helpful for you?
What I love is the fact that many improvisers from around the world have taken the time to record videos that show how various games and exercises work. Every time I’m stuck with something, I look for it online and I almost always find a video that explains what I need. In fact, many of those videos, come from Austin’s own, Shana Merlin. The AIC itself has certainly been incredibly helpful. When I decided to start an improv school, I tried to avoid mentioning it to many people for fear of how they would react to it. After all, I’m a fairly new improviser, with still lots n lots to learn. To my surprise, every single person that heard about it embraced the idea and congratulated me for it.
Other than that, The Hideout Theater’s assistance has been priceless, with good vibes, excellent advice and huge help with material. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.
8) Can I come and play in Greece when you get a stage? Can I stay on your couch?