Big Announcement: Merlin Works is Moving!

Merlin Works Newsletter

Merlin Works is Moving to ZACH Theatre in January 2013

by Shana Merlin

Twenty years ago, in 1992, I was fourteen years old and someone handed me a stack of paper that would change my life forever. In those days, my drama-club-geek-girlfriends and I would make the trek from suburban Atlanta into the city to a new improv theater called Dad’s Garage as often as we could.  One night we showed up to watch an improv performance and the place was empty.

Denis Cahill Shana Merlin and Keith Johnstone

We walked up to the box office to buy our tickets and found out the Atlanta Braves baseball team were playing in the World Series that night. Because we were clueless high school drama girls, we had no idea that our hometown team were in a national championship. And then something happened that would alter my life forever: The volunteer manning the box office unthinkingly handed us a fat stack of free passes to the theater and apologized for the show being cancelled that night.  We went free show after free show, for almost a year. We used that whole stack: laughing, crushing a different cute young guy in the troupe every week, and falling in love with improv.
Eight years after that, in 2000, I graduated college and helped open The Hideout Theater in downtown Austin with Sean Hill. I started teaching the classes, helping to run the troupe, and performing almost every weekend. That’s when I got my sea legs and went from passable amatuer to budding professional comedian. I started travelling to study improv from the greats like Keith Johnstone, Paul Sills, and the teachers at BATS Improv in San Francisco. Almost ten years ago, in 2003, I went out on my own and opened Merlin Works to do improv classes, corporate teambuilding, and live comedy shows, building my reputation around town. Almost five years ago, in 2008, we partnered up with Gnap! Theater Projects and found a warm, funky home at the Salvage Vanguard Theater on Manor Rd, where we opened The Merlin Works Institute for Improvisation. Salvage Vanguard has been a wonderful East Austin arts hub and the basecamp for all our classes, graduation shows, and private training events. 
This year, 2012, has been a big one for me and Merlin Works. In January, when I was seven months pregnant, I learned that Gnap! was looking to get out of the weekly improv show production game by the end of the year to focus on producing fewer, larger original scripted works. I wasn’t sure what to do. I was just about to begin my maternity leave and didn’t have much bandwith to maintain my business, much less take over producing improv shows. But performance is an essential part of an improv school. In the months after my son was born in March, I was convinced I would have to let it all go and shut Merlin Works down. I didn’t see a way out and I had little time or energy left for my business. I don’t know if you’ve heard anything about this, but having children can be hard on a woman’s career.

Thankfully, I had many friends and family that told me not to give up. They advised me not to make any big decisions in the haze of new motherhood. And one summer evening, I was walking around Hyde Park with my husband, with my four month old boy in the stroller. I ran in to my friend, former boss and sometimes mentor, Karen La Shelle from Creative Action. After hearing my sad story about planning on closing up shop, Karen said that wouldn’t do and offered to have a business meeting with me to brainstorm. And in that meeting she suggested finding a new home for Merlin Works. Just like in the stories I tell onstage, it wasn’t until I really had given up that I saw a new possibility–the idea of moving to ZACH, Austin’s oldest and finest producing theater. They have a strong youth theater program, but no classes for adults. Maybe I could fit in there!

It was a long shot. But when I contacted my improv friend and ZACH employee Nat Miller about who to talk to about Merlin Works teaching classes at ZACH– he said HE was the guy to talk to! What luck! And Nat has done an amazing job advocating for me and making this new deal happen.

So I am pleased to announce that starting January 2013, Merlin Works classes will be held at the top notch ZACH Theatre. We will still have free parking and the same great prices and instructors, but our classes will now be an extra half hour longer for extra time for practice and performance games. We
Merlin Works Improv at ZACH

 also get a new central location on the banks of Lady Bird Lake, on the same campus as the fabulous new Topfer Theater. Classes will be Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 7:30 – 10pm and Sundays 12:30 – 3pm.  We will also have shows Second Sundays at 8pm in the 230 seat Kleberg Stage, ZACH’s main stage for the last forty years. Merlin Works students and teachers will get to showcase their improv skills in front of a live audience.

We are so excited about this new chapter. We want to thank all the people and theaters that have supported us on this journey. And we want to make it the most successful chapter yet. So sign up for a class or sign your friend up for a class (they make a great Christmas present.) Come to our grand opening Sunday January 13th at 6pm and stick around for our debut improv show at ZACH at 8pm. And forward this post about Merlin Works to the people you know.

Thanks so much, everyone. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Shana Merlin
Founder, Merlin Works

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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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