Im­prov classes mov­ing to Zach site


Austin American-Statesman - - AUSTIN360 DAILY - Con­tin­ued from E Con­tac­tar­i­an­naauberat 445-3630.

Ad­di­tion­ally, monthly im­prov com­edy shows will be staged in the 230-seat Kle­berg The­atre, a much larger venue than the old one.

Mer­lin said the classes are al­ready get­ting a lot of early reg­is­tra­tion, and she cred­its Zach as the rea­son.

“Zach has such a big au­di­ence,” Mer­lin said. “I’m hop­ing that by hav­ing our classes there, it’ll lend le­git­i­macy to im­prov, which is thought of as a night­club sort of thing.”

Which is not to say that Mer­lin’s com­pany wasn’t suc­cess­ful be­fore — it orig­i­nated out of a work­shop Mer­lin be­gan of­fer­ing in 1996 that did more than just make peo­ple fun­nier and laugh really hard.

Par­tic­i­pants found she helped them com­mu­ni­cate bet­ter with their friends and fam­ily and felt more com­fort­able lead­ing meet- ings at work.

The pop­u­lar­ity of her im­prov train­ing grew so much that even­tu­ally, in 2008, she was able to open her im­prov school, teach­ing three types of classes: short-form game play (think “Whose Line Is It, Any­way?”); long-form nar­ra­tive, which crafts un­scripted plays; and mu­si­cal im­prov, which in­volves mak­ing up songs for im­pro­vised mu­si­cals.

“The classes change the in­ner me­chan­ics of how you view risk in your brain,” Mer­lin said.

“You start tak­ing risks, not just in class but in work meet­ings or at home.

“I get a lot of stu­dents that are in a tran­si­tion of some sort — maybe they just moved to town or left a job or went through a break-up. I think they’re at­tracted to im­prov be­cause it’s about tak­ing risks to get to the next part of your life.”

She said two big changes rocked Mer­lin Works early this year, when she con­sid­ered shut­ting down, and she found her­self “walking the walk” and ap­ply­ing what she’d taught her stu­dents to her own life.

The first change was her busi­ness part­ner, Shan­non McCormick, de­cid­ing not to pro­duce Mer­lin Works’ im­prov shows any longer. His com­pany, Gnap! The­ater Projects, now fo­cuses on scripted pro­duc­tions. At the same time, she was on the verge of the other big change — the birth of her son Se­bas­tian in early March. She said she had no en­ergy to do any­thing but be a mom.

“I just couldn’t do it all,” she said.

A friend told her she just couldn’t close Mer­lin Works, and sug­gested that she look into find­ing a home and pro­duc­ing part­ner for the school.

That home ended up be­ing Zach The­atre.

Zach’s ed­u­ca­tion di­rec­tor, Nat Miller, told Mer­lin it was the per­fect time to add im­prov com­edy classes for adults to the the­ater’s ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram, as Zach was al­ready ex­pand­ing with the ad­di­tion of Topfer The­atre, the new Zach build­ing that opened in Septem­ber.

While Mer­lin con­tin­ues to spread the skill of im­prov around Austin, her son might one day be one of the kids learn­ing to act at Zach.

“Right now he has the giggle gene,” Mer­lin said. “And, ac­tu­ally, he thinks my hus­band is the funny one.”

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