Merlin Works Teacher Spotlight: Shannon McCormick

Our latest interview is with one of the people who has had the longest relationship with Merlin Works, Shannon McCormick. And I have had so many different relationships with Shannon over the years. We’ve been onstage partners in Get Up since 2005, with sound support from Sara Farr. Shannon is the artistic director of Gnap! Theater Projects, which has been producing shows in association with Merlin Works since 2008.  I am a company member at Gnap! and have directed and starred in several of their shows, with Shannon serving as producer. Shannon has been teaching at Merlin Works for years now, and this Fall he’ll be teaching Improv 201 on Monday nights. And most of all, Shannon and I have been friends through thick and thin since we met in my improv class at the Hideout back in 2000. And just to dispel any misconceptions, Shannon and I are both married, but not to each other: we are troupe mates, business associates, and friends. Learn more about Shannon in this interview:

When and how did you get in to improv?

I started doing improv at the Hideout at the end of 2000. I had just gotten done with grad school, where I had done no performance work at all, and was looking for a way to connect to people in Austin and to get back on stage.

When did you know you were bitten by the bug? 

I think I knew I was bitten pretty early on, like within weeks. I think the real turning point was a Six Degrees show at the Hideout called Dome Driver. I can still pretty much remember that whole show and thinking, “Wow, you can kind of do anything with improv.”

What do you love about improv?

Well, I’ll be honest and say one of the things that I most love about improv is that I like the rehearsal/performance time ration a lot better for improv than for scripted work. As a family guy, that’s really important for me. I think the other thing is coming from a fiction background, improv, at least the Johnstone-style improv I was first exposed to, has a deep understanding of what makes something a story and how human beings respond when watching other people doing something in time (aka a scene). I felt as a fiction writer I didn’t have that deep understanding of how to hold an audience’s interest, how to answer the questions ‘what comes next.” I feel like I’ve really gotten to explore those issues and themes through improv more than any other art form I’ve worked in.

What are some highlights of your performance experience?

Without a doubt, playing with Get Up in the Amsterdam Improv Festival in 2010. That we could be recognized internationally at being good at what we do was most excellent, and it was great to see how similar improvisers are in other countries–slightly nerdy, very friendly and generous people.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I am intense and enthusiastic. I also get so jazzed about this stuff that I sometimes don’t make sense, so if you’re taking my class you might need to warn me to take a deep breath and repeat what I’m saying S-L-O-W-L-Y!

What advice would you give a new improviser?

You don’t have to master all of improv right away. Find that one thing that works for you, that helps pull you into a place where you’re not thinking about the improv and just doing it. If you can find that, other aspects of how to improvise will start coming to you.

What’s something you are passionate about that has nothing to do with improv?

I read a lot. I mean a lot. Fiction, history, the whole she-bang. I’m also a pretty ardent follower of politics and current events. Oh, and comics are cool, although I like indie and art comics a lot more than genre stuff.

About Shana Merlin

Merlin Works is the brainchild of Shana Merlin: improviser, teacher, and performer. Since 1996, she’s been leading classes that stretch people’s imaginations, push them out of their comfort zones, and make them laugh out loud for hours at a time.

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