We are starting a blog series highlighting the awesome teachers at Merlin Works. First up is Ted Rutherford. Ted’s been teaching at Merlin Works for two years now and in May, he’ll be teaching Improv 501. When people ask me about Ted I say, “You’ll like Ted. Everyone likes Ted.” And it’s true. He’s a great performer and teacher as well as being a great father, community member, and humanitarian.
When and how did you get in to improv?
One day in late 1999 or 2000 my wife and I were at a coffee shop flipping through the Chronicle. She saw an ad for stand-up comedy classes and suggested I sign up. As I was explaining that I wasn’t interested in performing the same material over and over every weekend she turned the page and pointed to an ad for improv classes. The rest is history!
When did you know you were bitten by the bug?
I was hooked from day one. I had lots of stage experience prior to doing improv, so I didn’t have that uncomfortableness of being on stage for the first time. My experience was more like the thrill of a roller coaster than the terror of a train wreck.
What do you love about improv?
It sounds cliche but for me it is about the journey rather than the destination. I love that I, along with my scene partners, am creating something from nothing. We strive to create something magical every time, but I get a great deal of satisfaction just from engaging in the process.
What are some highlights of your performance experience?
I rarely remember specifics about shows or things I have done on stage. So my highlights are when people tell stories about shows and they remember specific details about my contributions. I really love it when total strangers approach me in non-improv settings and say “Hey…I know you…you were in that improv show where you…”. Also, I get a kick out of making my troupe mates in Junk break character with laughter. That is how I know if something was truly funny.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I would describe my teaching style is energetic, fun and loose. I love to try new things and helping students expand their improv comfort zone. I believe in being positive while giving honest, authentic feedback. I prefer to teach from the stage rather than from the audience (if that makes sense).
What advice would you give a new improviser?
Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself to be funny. Improv is not a competition but a collaboration. You shine by making your scenes and scene partners shine, not by being the funniest one on stage at all times.
What’s something you are passionate about that has nothing to do with improv?
I am passionate about a lot of trivial things – craft beer, disc golf, cooking, etc. But something that means a great deal to me is preventing all forms of chronic interpersonal abuse (bullying, harassment, sexual exploitation, dating violence, rape, etc.) All of these things have a devastating impact on every single one of us AND, since they are ultimately conscious choices, they are completely preventable if we address the underlying conditions that cause people to make those choices in the first place.