Here follow Kayla’s thoughts on feelings, improv and vulnerability.
So how long have you done improv?
About 10 years, we have the Canadian Improv games at high-school, so I’ve been improvising since I was 15, professionally since I was 18. They start us young there
I think it’s great that kids get to start improv at school
It’s amazing. The improv games are very structured, very Keith Johnstone, very story based but it’s a good place to start as an improviser because you have all that ingrained in you. When you leave it there is a tendency to pull back from the highly structured 4 minute scene you were used to doing, but that skill is in you.
Did you change your direction in improv after leaving school?
I think so. I had seen that one style for so long, and I grew up in a small town, so then I moved to a bigger place where I could see other improv companies, I was like:
“Ok there is all this other stuff we can do wit this art form!”
I was just exploring long form for a long time, I don’t know how good it was when I began *laughs*, but it was fun to have these bigger tools to work with.
What kind of improv are you drawn to?
I think it’s definitely changed a lot. When I was starting out I was still really interested in narrative and scene painting and telling cohesive stories. But as I’ve developed more as a comedian outside of improv, I became more attracted to very character based work and more slice of life moments than story telling.
Just that little moment where you’re seeing these people exist, watching them wax poetic, or go through an emotional experience, maybe separate from a bigger story. The arc is more emotional and character based.
Sounds like you are always learning in your approach?
I think always learning, that’s what I love so much about the art form it’s so malleable, and it changes with what period of my life I’m in. So right now that’s what I’m really interested in, it helps me do other work, helps with my writing.
I’m sure it will change, I can already feel with The Sufferettes, we’re missing story now, we want to go back and try to start telling more stories because we’ve left them for so long.
It’s instinctive, you know when you’ve had enough of one thing and want something new.
Totally yeah, it feels very natural and organic, that change. I’ve been doing this a while, I can see my patterns and they’re becoming clear so now I’ll do something to shake that up and inspire the work.
That makes sure you really are always learning.
Exactly. The fear of being complacent in your art keeps you a bit nervous and keeps you learning and adding more to the tool-belt of skills.
I read If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland recently and she talks there about the difference between the divine ego and the conceit of the human ego. Conceit is static and rests on you having done stuff, whereas the self-confidence of the divine ego is about the challenge of doing new things.
I really like that. That’s a really good way to put it. With any kind of work I’m always putting myself in situations where I’m feeling slightly overwhelmed because it forces me to make decisions and see what I can do.
I didn’t go to any post-secondary education, I just started improvising right out of high school, so I have to keep educating myself in whatever ways I’m interested in, otherwise I’ll be an idiot *laughs*.
Does your learning in improv feedback into the rest of your life, in terms of knowing specific skills or the general attitude it teaches?
I think both. I think there is the practical structure that helps with other work, the idea of being able to see story arcs in a fast way or be able to make connections between characters, emotionally and narratively. I think that my mind is just geared towards that.
And then in a more blue sky philosophical way I think improv has helped me have more of an ease about creation, I’m not so precious with it. It was hard to start but now it’s easier to look at practically and remove parts without being too precious.
Coming from improv it almost scared me to commit to something in writing, it’s easier to make art that’s disposable, but now I can remove and sculpt it. It’s very satisfying when you spend so much time making stuff that only exists for a night and goes away, to write.
Is your attraction to emotional work a personal thing for you?
Oh yeah. I’m an only child and a girl so I think a lot of my life is reflecting on emotions and why I feel different ways and why other people might feel different ways and trying to be empathetic. Two things that I really care about are emotions and food, so I think about those two things a lot *laughs*.
I think exploring emotion on stage is a really important skill.
It depends on the improviser, when you think about comedic voice and what you want to say. I’m getting more comfortable in the fact that what I want to say usually is connected with feelings and emotions or experience emotionally because that’s how I life I guess. So I’m giving that more power in my work and appreciating it.
I haven’t pinpointed my comedic sensibility or voice yet, I don’t know when that happens, but I’m homing in on what I care about right now.
Something that inspires me in that respect is WTF with Marc Maron. That podcast is totally his voice.
I really like him. He is so open, he talks about his feelings a lot, which I really like. He’s always in a process of analysing, and figuring out why he’s feeling things, and I find that so interesting
I love that he seems genuinely interested in the processes of his guests too.
I love the shape of his interviews starting from childhood or early development, getting the roots of where everyone has come from and going through that middle time when they were struggling or figuring themselves out, it’s so interesting and universal. I really enjoy his interviews, he has so much of himself in it.
I liked his response to a question about what was edgy in comedy now, after we have seen so much boundary breaking in comedy. He said “There is nothing scarier than a man on stage asking for help.
That’s, yeah, that’s beautiful. I think vulnerability and emotion is getting more exciting and definitely influencing comedy. Another podcast I really love is Julie Klausners “How Was Your Week?”. She is very emotional and talks about, and does incredible interviews, I really love her.
And an HBO show that got cancelled: Enlightened, created by Mike White and Laura Dern. It was so beautiful, it took a step back from that hard edgy intense comedy. It was very emotionally vulnerable, talking about feelings and experiences and growth and it was so funny but also sensitive.
I think that’s a nice direction that maybe comedy will go in. We’ve seen everything, the internet allows us to see anything, so now we need more personal voices and emotional expression.
I certainly discovered the joy of being open in improv. When I see people or characters talk about what is going on for them in the moment it’s the most beautiful they can be.
Yeah it’s beautiful, I completely agree, that’s what I’m excited by.
Something that Becky said was that to be good at comedy you need to be laughed at, which is essentially that vulnerability.
Yeah, I pull back from comedy that is very shiny and removed from the ugliness of people or it’s just ugly in a contrived way, it’s very controlled. If you are going to show your ugliness, show the beautiful side of it too.
Yeah that bores me, if a comedian is not sharing anything personal then he or she is not really doing something more scary than anyone else.
Yeah, yeah I agree. Your job is sharing your voice and opinion and experiences, and hopefully people connect to them or take something away from them. Your job is to constantly be trying to get closer to your truthful voice.
It takes the pressure off being ultimately creative or keeping up with the newest thing. Obviously we all have a duty to stay relevant and stay on top of what is going on, I like that side, but it’s less stressful to be as truthful as possible as a goal. If you can sell that part of you, then you’ll have a good career, I think.
I think that Marc Maron’s success with his podcast proves that to be true. For me its an antidote to the shiny chat-show segments of people selling a new album or movie.
Yeah, as we are exposed to much more I think our skill for sussing out sincerity and authenticity is growing.
I think the performer’s job is being authentic as possible without being emotionally irresponsible with yourself. All of that emotion but still remembering you are a performer and people have paid to see you- there’s an expectation of skill and control. Not going up on stage and just vomiting out your opinions and emotions in a way that is selfish and boring.
In a workshop or training that’s where you can be messier and explore the corners of yourself, in a show you still have a responsibility to do a concise and tight show that’s interesting.
Yeah otherwise don’t take money on the door.
Is it a challenge to be finding your voice as a performer, having that quest?
It tough but also liberating, and it’s newer to me. When I started performing it was so overwhelming as an individual to make sure I was doing a good job. I was self conscious and insecure, as I’ve gotten older and I feel more firm in who I am, now it feels like a time where I am reflecting on what I want to say and I can focus outwards more, when it was so inward before.
So it’s been a liberating process in the last year to start having a stance on what I believe in and what I care about in art, and what I want to do. It is hard. It’s a lot of looking at yourself which can be gross, and terrifying, or boring which is the worst! *laughs*
But thinking about it as a life long process is comforting to me, that it will change as I learn and as I get older and get more experience.
Really its an incredible gift as much a responsibility.
Yeah it’s a responsibility that I’m happy to have, of self-reflection because I find it so exciting and fun to have a short hand for my emotion and opinions, and developing that is exciting. I find that it helps me communicate better with people, deal with personal crises, understand why I feel a certain way faster.
Learning those skills is fundamental I think. We are full up of strange issues and we need to learn how to sort them out. Those skills are like being given robot arms to tidy up the inner warehouse.
Yeah, I’m developing an Ipad app that categorises my boxes more effectively! And there will always be more technology that will help us categorise that weird disturbing warehouse that we all have.
“I gotta work on my exports now, I don’t even know how to do an invoice!”
It’s all learning at the end of the day. That is our life, we need to learn how to use the machinery of ourselves, let alone anything else.
Exactly. That’s nice to me. Amongst all of the practical things about whether I’m making great life choices or terrible life choices, the comfort is all you can do is just try to be a better person. That’s vague and open but its relaxing to me, because that’s something I can do. A long process but it’s satisfying.
What are your thoughts about coming over to the UK?
I’m excited to see what the vibe is. I know stand-up is very big in the UK, but I’m not super familiar with the improv. I saw School of Night in Canada, and they were incredible, but that’s a very specific skill set and thing they are doing.
Interested to see what the general aesthetic and sense of humour is. There are stereotypes of British comedy from watching programmes, everything is very dry and witty and dark, which I like, but I don’t know what the voice of the improv community will be.
We look forward to hearing your voice over here, thanks Kayla.