|Lauren Zinn and Shana Merlin
in November 2010 at the AIC Potluck
In our second Merlin Works Teacher Interview, we focus on Lauren Zinn. It’s no secret that Lauren and I are best friends. We met in 1998 at auditions for Austin Theatersports, and the rest is history. We’ve been together in a ton of troupes, shows, plays, projects, and even were roommates for a year. Aside from being a great friend, Lauren is a great improv teacher because she is a intelligent writer and communicator, is very grounded by her yoga practice, and doesn’t waste her time with things that aren’t fun.
When and how did you get in to improv?
In college, when I thought I wanted to be an actor, I was in the habit of going on any audition I could. Sean Hill was casting a new improv troupe — something I’d never tried before. I showed up, played some games and had a blast. Somehow I got cast and learned truckloads as we started doing shows and eventually opened The Hideout downtown.
What was your first turning point in improv?
|Lauren Zinn and Shana Merlin goofing around
in The Hideout Green Room in 2002
Man, I was so bad in the beginning. But I wanted so desperately to be good. (See my advice for beginners below.) I remember this Maestro show at Hyde Park — there was a scene that was tanking about bullies on the playground. It had started strong, but after a couple minutes I was so glad I wasn’t in it. Then one of the kids in the scene mentioned that the teacher was coming, and Sean Hill, who was directing the show waved me onstage. Reluctantly, I went — with NO IDEA what to do. I stood there as the bully character talked at me, the teacher. I felt like there was a right thing to say, but I didn’t know what it was. Then, without me telling it to, my arm swung and punched the bully in the arm, which was exactly how the scene had started — with the bully punching the other kid. It got a huge laugh and the lights went down. I stood there in the dark wondering how on earth that had happened.
What do you love about improv?
Being in the moment and taking risk is great practice for life. It’s magical and spiritual — but more to the point, it’s really freaking fun.
What are some highlights of your performance experience?
There were about half a dozen Dusk shows that I wanted to marry and have babies with. And about 10 years ago, I was an unwitting neo-Nazi in a longform show who learned the hard way what Nazis do. That sounds so horrible, but it was awesome because it’s something you’d be an asshole to script, but in improv… it just happened. It was a beautiful, hilarious accident.
|Lauren Zinn and Shana Merlin at the
Heroes of Comedy 10 Year Reunion Show in 2008
How would you describe your teaching style?
Playful and awareness-building. I also teach yoga, so I’m interested in things like breath (we almost always hold it when we’re planning rather than playing) and how improv can be this amazing mirror that shows us our own personalities and habits — the reality of our strengths and weaknesses.
What advice would you give a new improviser?
Give yourself permission to be a beginner. (As soon as you do, you’re already pretty advanced.)
What’s something you are passionate about that has nothing to do with improv?
Yoga. They’re so similar to me — both are all about being in the present moment. You make shapes with your body in one, and stories with your friends in the other. I spitball about this on my website, laurenzinn.com.
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