The Founder of Merlin Works, Shana Merlin is one of the most experienced and effective improv teachers in Central Texas. The former Dean of The Heroes School of Improvisational Theatre, Shana has been an internationally touring performer and award-winning teacher since 1995. Shana has trained with some of the top teachers in the field of improvisation including Keith Johnstone, and members of Second City, The Annoyance, IO, The Groundlings and more.
Paul Normandin is an award-winning storyteller, a producer, writer, and founder of the Improv troupe In Our Prime. Paul is a Moth GrandSlam Champion and winner of the first Texas State StorySlam. He has a BA and MA from Texas A&M University in Speech Communication and retired as the Senior Planning and Project Advisor for the State of Texas. When not on stage telling stories, performing Improv, or writing sketches, he can be found playing Ultimate or in Rehab from Ultimate.
Marissa Wahkuna Ponder got her start as an actress, musician, and dancer as a child and began a lifelong love of the Arts. With a BFA in Theatre Education and a Masters in Education, she spent 20 years as an all-age drama, music, and academics teacher. She trained in improv at Improv Asylum in Boston, and also performed long-form music improv with Boston’s Unscripted Musical Project. Marissa began her joyful journey with Merlin Works in 2016, and continues to find teaching improv the career highlight of her life.
Tyler Bryce has performed in thousands of improv, sketch, and stand up comedy shows through the years, beginning with ComedySportz Austin in 1991. He is a two-time finalist in the Funniest Person In Austin Contest. He began teaching and directing improvisation in 1995 through Zachary Scott Theater Center. Tyler has taught hundreds of public and private classes improv through the years.
In 2000, Tyler was proud to represent ComedySportz Austin in the finals of the Comedy League of America National Championships, where they brought home the National Championship crown.
In 2001, he moved to New York where he studied long-form and sketch comedy at The Upright Citizens Brigade, The Magnet, and The People’s Improv Theater. He was a regular cast member with National Comedy Theater and The Improv Asylum (New York).
Since returning to Austin in 2012, Tyler has produced, performed, and directed in many popular shows, including F*** It’s Hot, Thinning the Herd, and Flying Theater Machine. Tyler currently performs with ComedySportz Austin at Zach Scott North.
Austin Kimble (Music Director / Pianist) is a B. Iden Payne and Central Texas Excellence in Theatre Award nominee and a two-time recipient of the BroadwayWorld Austin Award for “Best Musical Direction”. Music direction credits include Ghost Quartet (Penfold Theatre); Nunsense and Ruthless (City Theatre); Evita, Rock of Ages, Man of La Mancha, Shrek, My Fair Lady, A Christmas Carol, Spamalot, Smokey Joe’s Café, Damn Yankees, and Tarzan (Georgetown Palace Theatre); and numerous youth productions throughout the Austin metroplex.
He holds a bachelor’s of music degree in jazz piano performance from the University of Texas at Austin and has performed worldwide. In 2022, he accepted a position as Lecturer and Associate Music Director for Texas State University’s Department of Theatre & Dance. He also teaches a studio of private students in the areas of piano, trumpet, voice, music theory, improvisation, and audition technique.
Valerie Nies is a comedian, writer, and gluten enthusiast who has taught comedy and coached since 2017. She’s written for humor sites Reductress and McSweeney’s and performed comedy at Out of Bounds, Big Little Comedy, and Frontera Fringe Festivals.
For four years, she hosted the monthly all-women standup showcase Smile More! at The Institution Theater, a consistently sold-out comedy show. She has written a comedic one-woman show How to Say You’re Afraid of Commitment in 140 Characters or Less, produced a popular self-help podcast Help Wanted, performed on storytelling shows in Austin and LA, and won awards for television scripts that never aired. Her sketch comedy has been featured on Bitch, Jezebel, Salon, and Huffington Post. Valerie is also a published poet with work appearing in literary journals, and her chapbook Imaginary Frenemies, is available from Toho Publishing.
Jo Chauvin is an improv teacher/coach and career consultant in Austin, TX. She took her first improv class in 2008, and while too shy to get on stage or even participate in class exercises, she quickly embedded herself in the Austin improv scene. She was the house manager of the Hideout Theatre for 3 years and an integral team member in the beginning days of the Institution Theater. She has been teaching classes and coaching troupes since 2014, and it is absolutely her favorite thing to do in the whole world!
She also works as a career consultant and often incorporates improv exercises into her presentations regarding interviewing, networking, recruiting, and team-building.
Joey Neugart has studied with Keith Johnstone as well as teachers from BATS Improv, Groundlings, Second City Chicago, and Saturday Night Live. In San Francisco, he was a regular performer at the Unscripted Theater Company and the BATS cave match and has regularly toured festivals.
He is the founder of Lightside Collective, an applied improv training company with clients including UT Law School, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles Schwab, and Marsh McClennan. Lightside Collective produces Speechless Live in Austin. Joey performs monthly with the B. Iden Payne award-winning, all-LatinX troupe Escandalo!
Ladi is an artist, award winning storyteller, and animal lover. He is the current Artistic/Creative Director for Testify. He has shared stories with I’m From Driftwood, Truth in Comedy, and The Moth, where he won with a story about sympathetic nausea and what it teaches us about love and connection.
Ladi is also an award winning public speaker with Toastmasters International. He is a native Texan who currently resides in Austin with his partner and the cremains of two elderly cats. Mocha and Tragedy hated each other in life, but in death they sit side by side on his nightstand.
Anne Dowd discovered that improv was her love language at DePaul University in 2000. She studied improv at several Chicago institutions including the Second City Conservatory, iO Chicago and the Annoyance Theater. She has performed with various independent improv teams over the years as well as in scripted and musical theater shows in and around Chicagoland.
After moving to Austin, she found community through training and performing at the Hideout Theater and uncovered a zest for adult-themed puppet shows via zoom-prov and later directed Boulevard Q, an in-person queer improvised puppet show, at the Hideout Theater.
By day, she is a Speech Language Pathologist and works with young adults with communication needs. She enjoys playing the piano and guitar as well as performing with her two-person improv team Anne and Jan Have No Plan.
Hayato DeSouza started taking improv classes in 2018 at Dad’s Garage theater in Atlanta with a curriculum focused on Kieth Johnstone-style teachings. The hobby quickly became an obsession as he joined a local queer improv troupe (Queeriety/Fruits!), the house team for Out Front Theater, and was a quarter finalist in Atlanta Improv Festival’s 2019 improv battle league.
After relocating to Austin he dabbled with online performances, streaming drag and piano shows while writing sketches throughout the pandemic. He enjoys biking, cooking, and playing piano. Currently you can find him performing improv, sketch, and musical accompaniment around town.
Ritika Bhattacharjee received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University in 2022. She founded and served as president and conductor of Ingeniare, the A&M Student Engineering Chorus, and served as band leader and pianist for Binomial Rhapsody, an engineering instrumental ensemble that composed music from math equations. During her undergraduate study, she composed the scores for two short films, two video games, and an iOS app, and sang as the lead jazz vocalist for the Corps of Cadets Aggieland Orchestra, performing scores from the big-band era on tour.
She currently accompanies ballet rehearsals and Merlin Works Musical Theatre Improv shows on piano, sings jazz at local venues, and works as a business consultant and multi-media composer in Austin, TX.
Danielle DaVerona (she/they) began their improv journey in 2017. From there, they have become a performer, award-winning director (B.Iden Payne), and teacher of improv. Outside of improv, Danielle is a full time artist – dedicated cat/plant parent – & consumer of all things true crime.
“My goal as a teacher is to help people utilize improv techniques in AND outside the theatre, and to empower people deeply understand, trust and appreciate themselves and their choices!”
David can be found performing musical improv throughout Austin with his musical duo “The Milk Spillers” and can also be seen accompanying improvised musicals on the guitar. When not performing, you can find him chasing frisbees at Zilker Park.
Rob started his improv career in 1991 with The Velveeta Room’s in house improv troupe, The Cheese Pistols. He also played with The Laff Staff—The Laff Stop’s in house improv troupe. Additionally, Rob is known for his standup — VH1 and Comedy Central. He wrote 22 plays in 20 years. His one-man masterpiece Holy Cross Sucks! received Top Ten Broadway/off-Broadway plays from Time Out New York.
Rob is the favorite uncle of 7 nephews and nieces whom he loves to pieces.
Katie Felton has been performing stand-up comedy in Austin, TX since 2019. She has had the chance to open for comedians such as Jared Freid, and Katie Hannigan as well as having been featured on shows with Adam Ray and Steph Tolev. She can be found lip-syncing her face off at Cap City Comedy Club with her original comedy show Lip Shtick Battle or doing stand-up sets anywhere there is a stage around the city.
She regularly updates her performance schedule on her Instagram: @itsmekatiefelton.
Kristen DrenningKristen Drenning is an improvisor and storyteller in Austin. She has been a frequent performer at storytelling events such as Testify, Stories on the Lawn, The Moth, and Fallout Storytelling Hour. You can often find her performing with her troupes, Sorry for Partying, 48, Trouble, and Antisocial. She was part of the cast of numerous shows including Blvd. Q, Murder They Improvised, Into the Metaverse, and The Emma Dilemma.
She teaches improv to children through Coldtowne’s Excused Absence program and to neurodivergent teens through Hideout’s Building Connections program.
Sunaina Suhag began performing improv in 2013. Since then, she has never looked back. She’s taught corporate workshops, performed in many improvised plays and musicals as well as performed in Stool Pigeon at the Paramount Theater with esteemed improvisers from across the globe. She enjoys both long and short-form improv.
Susan was first introduced to long-form improv at The Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York City. She went on to train and perform at The UCB, The Magnet Theater and the P.I.T. as well as various other theaters. She quickly fell in love with musical improv and was happy to use her four years of high school choir for something other than singing in the shower. Susan went on to co-create and performed in NY’s first musical Harold team VEAL as well as perform on multiple musical house teams. After moving to Austin she was thrilled to be embraced into the AIC with open arms. Susan thanks Shana Merlin for giving her a chance at teaching, something she loves “almost” as much as performing.
Cynthia is a leadership coach and corporate trainer. She’s trained organizations such as Dell, Dun & Bradstreet, KPMG, The Methodist Hospital, Digital Realty, Cintra US, Enspire Learning, Abilitie, Planar Systems (now Leyard), Lutheran Social Services (now Upbring), and has helped folks in the business and medical communities achieve a winning balance of power and likeability.
Cynthia has used research in persuasion and compliance-gaining to help over 800 (and counting!) executives become top-notch leaders. In addition, she combines her work in theater and business to help people polish both their interpersonal and public speaking skills. Cynthia holds a Master’s degree in Interpersonal Communication from U.T. where she researched sales anxiety and persuasion. On weekends, she performs with award-winning Girls Girls Girls Improvised Broadway Musicals in Austin, Texas.
Aden has been on stage since she was 8 years old and teaching improv since she was a teenager. Her comedy credits include Esther’s Follies, Girls Girls Girls Improvised Musicals, Spitting Nonsense, The Starter Kit, Start Trekkin’, Apocalypse!, The Andersons, Battle Axe and cable-access sensation: The Late Night Lunch Show.