An interview with an Austin improvisor (fairly newbie): Megan Ehrisman

A little about our interviewee:

Megan works full time at the University of Texas and started taking improv classes with Merlin Works in January 2015. She has taken levels 101-301 and performed in a Graduation show in July 2015. Currently, she is in 401 (long form) improv class with the intention to continue through 601 for another Graduation show.

We sat down with Megan like a good old reporter would do and asked her some really deep and dark questions. Here are her answers. Enjoy!

1. What would your friends/family members say about improv?

Definitely a mix of being incredibly impressed and thinking makes so much sense for me. I agree with both sides.  I’m lucky enough to have had friends come out to watch my improv but my family doesn’t live here and have made declarations of wanting to see me perform. I think my dad thinks that I can send him a tape so he can pop it in the VCR and watch it. I’m afraid to tell him about the evolution of live streaming.

2. Have you noticed a change in yourself/your work after taking improv classes?

Oh, gosh. I think it’s made small but significant changes for me. One of my mentors once said to me, and then has reminded me many, many times of the Eastern adage, “Find the joy in the making of the tea, not in drinking the tea.” To which, I always responded, “But what if you like coffee?” I understood what she meant but I didn’t really connect to it. Clearly.

Thanks to improv, over the last year, I now feel deeply connected to this concept of enjoying the process. In my experience in improv, it’s very hard for me to know if I’m getting better on a week to week basis. Every moment of improv creates something that truly comes from nothing. And it takes work get barely a glimpse of something. It is constant failure, whether learning the rules of the game or scene or learning the tempo of your scene partner or even what audiences want to see. And every time you get up there, it’s that trial of creating something from nothing again, so you can learn from the past lessons, but you’ll never get the same chance to make a different choice, which is so meaningful to me.

The biggest change for me is the time I spend in class, I spend nearly all of it vulnerable.

For 2 hours every week, I put myself in situations that not only do I not know what’s going to happen next, I don’t even know who I am, what I’m doing, or why I’m doing it until it eventually reveals itself in a scene. And sometimes I fail so hard; it doesn’t even get THAT far. But within all of it in class, there are so many laughs, memorable moments that come from failing and a strong sense of community that can only be shared by people being vulnerable together that those hours each week in class are definitely some the ones I look forward most to each week. The process of improv is the process of existing in vulnerability, and I didn’t expect how much I would crave it.

3. What is your favorite scene or practice memory?

There was a moment before our graduation show, we were all slowly getting nervous realizing we were performing in the ZACH theatre and starting to sweat buckets because the hallway backstage literally felt like it had no air in JULY. A group of us discovered that the dressing room had a mighty air conditioner so we decided to wait in there and for whatever reason, I pulled out my phone and put on the theme song to Rocky and there we were, all of us, punching the air, doing the classic Rocky jump, or dancing until they called us to get out of there because we had to go onstage. I can only speak for myself but it really hit me that these people I’ve played with for 6 months were ready and we were really doing it and there was no one else in the world that I wanted to share that time on stage with, the gratefulness for all of it was overwhelming but so joyous. That memory makes my heart swell every time I think of it, and I do, often.

I don’t have specific scenes in mind but the memories all kind of roll into one of just community. Merlin Works in general is so loving and so giving and the people I’ve had classes with are just amazing and I feel lucky to have gotten to know them in the way I have. Improv is a really intimate thing because trust is so paramount to making it work and so I think it lends itself to really feeling close to your classmates and there was a great sense of camaraderie that evolved from our class. I loved that.

Recently, Dayne and Chris had to plan a party for my partner and me during the warm up activity in class. It was a nautical heavy theme. Dayne had created a playlist called  “Jock Jams for Tall Ships” and that made me laugh so much.

4. What is one example of a scene that you thought for sure was going nowhere and ended up being liquid/comedy gold?

In 301, we were learning about physicality. We all were instructed to write a bunch of physical actions on cards. The cards were then scattered throughout the room. In thescenes, the players had to act out the scene while occasionally picking up the cards and doing whatever the cards told us to do. My scene partner and I were given the suggestion of prima ballerinas so we had to create a scene around that with all these unexpected actions incorporated into it. The scene went well as could be expected as we tried to make our actions as graceful as we could as ballerinas might do. Towards the end, I picked up a card that said, “get into a fetal position”. I am not a coordinated person but even if I was, there is no way to gracefully get that quickly into that position, so I just collapsed onto the floor which my classmates LOVED. The scene got better because I had to justify my reason for being in a fetal position on the floor, which just added so much more to the scene.  When I got back to my seat, Melanie told me she was crying so I asked if she was okay and she responded “I mean… you just threw yourself on to the ground!!!!” and then I realized she was laughing so hard she was crying.

5. What has been the main thing that surprised you about taking improv classes?

It has surprised me that improv is not about being funny. It feels like learning a language. Also, I think smart people aren’t always improvisers but improvisers are almost always smart people.

6. Would you recommend improv to EVERYONE? Or do you think there may be some people that are better off not taking it (trick question?)?

Absolutely. I think there are ton of life skills that can be found in improv. Most importantly, learning to let go of ego is a big one, you can’t have an ego while you are performing improv, and it just won’t work.  Being a good listener, putting others first, critical thinking, being present, and risking it all (ego, again) to have it not work out and shaking it off are constant themes in improv classes.  The key to benefiting from improv is to truly wanting to be there and surrendering to all of the things I stated above, if you can’t do that you won’t have fun. But when you do, and everyone else does, it’s the best there is, especially when no one but those of you in class will see it.

At the end of the day, all of us are improv-ing through life, why wouldn’t it be for everyone??

7. Do you have any tattoos? What and why?  (Even better if they are improv related – I’m thinking about it…)

Nope! I think I might be the only one left in Austin.

8. Would you recommend taking an improv class solo or with friends?

Any way you can get to improv, just do it!! You never do improv alone, so don’t let that stop you.

9. Because as a reporter, we are so nosy, what’s your favorite color?

Deep, deep blue for always. Lime for right now.

10. Would you consider yourself a sarcastic person?

I may not win a gold medal for it but I’m definitely walking in the Parade of Nations.


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