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.
Luke Wallens is an actor, improviser, writer and registered drama therapist. He learned improv through Hideout Theatre and Coldtowne Theater as well as musical improv through Merlin Works. He has been performing in B. Iden Payne Award-winning silent improv troupe, Golden, since 2015, has written and acted in the queer sketch comedy troupe, Martini Ranch and has played in various improv shows, most notably Big Gay Musical, Danger! The Improvised Lifetime Original Movie and The Next Chapter. He has taught improv to kids and teens with disabilities through The Hideout’s Building Connections program and continues his drama therapy work in collaboration with Shannon Stott’s Improv On & Off The Stage.
David started performing improv in 2007, the same time he started playing guitar. In 2014 he started combining the two in musical improv and hasn’t stopped since. 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.
James started his improv journey in 2016 at Merlin Works, after his first class he knew he needed more so he went out and completed training at all the theaters in Austin (Coldtowne, Hideout, Institution, Merlin Works, and Fallout). James loves improv for one simple reason, it helps people connect on a human level and perpetuates empathy. He is excited to help foster more of that in the world through teaching classes and help students become more efficient and empathetic communicators.
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, Mr. Kimble 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.
Kevin has worked in both New York City and Austin as an educator, producer, and performer, primarily in the field of interactive theater. He’s collaborated with immersive event companies like Journey Lab and Metaforyou, and was a company member with Interactive Playlab and Live In Theater, who specialize in fully interactive performance. He is also a co-founder of the Austin-based interactive experience company (ix)plore Lab.
Currently he works as an educator, using what he learned in theater to find new ways to engage his learners through play, with a focus on inclusion and addressing students’ functional and behavioral needs.
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.
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.
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.
Elena Kent’s first intensive improv training was with former member, administrator and instructor of The Groundlings, Randy Bennett. After several years professionally acting in Dallas, Elena moved back to her hometown of San Angelo, Texas. Elena founded Be Theatre, resident company of the San Angelo PAC, and co-founded B.A.D Improv (Be After Dark).
Elena is also a studio artist (Elena Kent Art), mom of 3 adult children, and wife to her husband, Kevin. She is a UT graduate with a BFA in Art History because her dad didn’t think she’d ever end up working in theatre and she needed a solid back up career. Joke’s on you, Dad!
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. Aden teaches singing and regular old improv at Merlin Works.
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.
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.
Sarah Marie Curry
Sarah Marie Curry is a B. Iden Payne Awards winner for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical for her role as “Jaime” in The Last Five Years . She was a proud member of the B. Iden Payne Award-Winning Troupe: Girls Girls Girls Improvised Musicals for 7.5 years and currently stars as one half of dramatic improv duo Cascade — a B. Iden Payne Award nominee for Outstanding Improv Troupe. Offstage, she is a passionate coach, director, teacher, and producer of improvisational theater.
After performing in her high school’s improv troupe, Sarah rediscovered improv in Austin in 2015. A classically trained vocalist, Sarah brings more than 15 years of musical experience to the classroom. She can be seen performing with Girls Girls Girls – Improvised Musicals and has performed regularly at the Institution Theater and The Hideout Theatre.