YBY ep 238: Leah Dawson and a lifelong love of the arts.

This week on Yes But Why, we talk to Italy-based improviser and educator, Leah Dawson.

Leah Dawson is an elementary school teacher at an international school in Italy. Leah is also an active member of the improv scene at Teatribù in Milan.

We connected on an international improv Facebook group. Leah weaves improv games into her daily lessons to keep her students engaged and we bonded when she advised me on an improv class I was teaching for elementary aged children. It was great to talk to Leah about how she got involved in improv and how it has helped her to be a better teacher.

In our conversation, Leah tells me how space camp got her out of US public schools and into an Italian international school. Leah tells the story of the chance meeting at brunch that inspired her interest in theater. And Leah regales me with quite a few funny tales about how she is still using improv to help her with speaking Italian!

Support Leah by taking an impro class with her. She has a unique perspective that will help you get better at your craft! Leah will be offering an impro in English class. Anyone interested should email EnglishImprovItaly@gmail.com !



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(production notes: recorded Facebook messenger call with Rodecaster on 11/9/2020)







TRANSCRIPT by Otter.ai

HOST  00:00

Hello, Yes But Why listeners, this is your host, Amy Jordan.   Welcome to Yes But Why episode 238 – my chat with Italy-based improviser, Leah Dawson!  But first, a bit about our sponsors.   This episode of Yes But Why podcast is sponsored by audible. You can get your FREE audiobook download and your 30 day free trial at audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY.   Audible is available for your iPhone, Android, or Kindle. Download your free audiobook today at audibletrial.com/YESBUTWHY.  This episode of Yes But Why is also sponsored by PodcastCadet.com.   Podcast Cadet is dedicated to helping you build your podcast. We will connect you to the resources you’ll need to get better and better with each and every episode.   Swing on by PodcastCadet.com to get help for all your podcasting needs! Let us know you heard about us from Yes But Why and you’ll get 20% off the workshop or service you buy!  This week on Yes But Why, we talk to improviser and educator, Leah Dawson.   Leah Dawson is an elementary school teacher and an active member of the improv scene at Teatribu in Milan, Italy.   In our conversation, Leah tells me all about the big leaps she took in her life and she regales me with quite a few hilarious tales about how she is still using improv to help her work on speaking Italian.   I now present to you: yes but why episode 238 Leah Dawson and a lifelong love of the arts.  Enjoy!  I’m Amy Jordan, and this is yes but why podcast Yeah. Yeah, yeah, there was a local high school hiring for like a theater director. And like for a second, I was like, Hey, you know, I could I could get a real job like a place with like a 401 K, and I do theater and it would be all right. And then I was like, I don’t know if I can do theater for the man. I don’t know.


GUEST  02:28

Oh, no. Yeah, there’s that fine line. It’s so it’s so interesting to talk to other people who work full time in the arts, because I have a very dear friend who’s a visual artist and incredibly hard working very talented visual artists. And she was trying to make it as an artist as a starving artists and decided that and she was kind of teaching on the side just kind of to make money. And she realized that her passion for teaching outweighed the her desire to really immerse herself deep in the fine art world, that it robbed her of the joy in a way of when you depend on your artwork for the roof of your house and the food in your mouth for her it changed her relationship with art. And I think for me, it would do the same thing. But then you think, Oh, no, am I a sellout that I have a nine to five job? And yet I also feel like I’m an artist on the other side? And how do you balance that and still say, I’m true to my art form, when it’s not something that you’ve been willing to, to suffer for. So it’s interesting that that I don’t know that dichotomy of I love my artwork so much. I love what I do, you know, in theater so much, but I never had the drive to really throw myself into and take that big, big risk. So it’s interesting how my sense of security and need for security kind of outweighed my drive. It’s something that I think kind of sticks I kind of niggles at me every now and then. Yeah, you know, one thing that really carries with it, would you say, I’ve definitely come to a sense of peace with it, that I do need that sense of security in order to be able to do my best in the theater world as well as at my other job. So I’ve come to peace with but I always find that to be such an interesting conversation among artists is, you know, it is that same question, Are you willing to do theater for the man? Or are you willing to kind of balance it not have theater or whatever it is at the center of your universe? for something else, like where’s your trade off? I was think that’s such an interesting conversation. You know, what I realize? I think now, it


HOST  04:43

everybody wants to has to live their life their own way, right? You have your own way of handling stuff, you need certain things to develop, whatever you feel is security. And that’s your own process. And the problem is is that We, when we get together in communities and societies, we decided that we all need to have opinions on other ways that people are living their lives. And I feel like this is the same with like, like the idea of, you know, is it? Is it art? If I’m not doing it full time? Is it like, should I be suffering for this? It’s in my mind, it’s the same argument is when people are like, this person has a tough life, we should donate money to whatever their causes. And then someone reacts with like, Yeah, well, my life’s tough. And you’re like, Okay, it’s a similar vibe, I think that we’re trying to compete with each other. In a scenario that has no true competition. Like, the way I live, my life is the way I live my life is way I want to live my life. And it’s based on 1000 things my experience, what I’ve decided as an adult, I want to do but that took time, you know what I mean? Like, I haven’t been full time without a day job. For my whole life. It was only I want to say it’s maybe been 10 years, maybe maybe less, like nine or eight, maybe you know what I mean? But it’s, it’s so it’s like my late my 30s. I went through a whole my whole life. Before I allowed myself to do that I learned so many different things. I tried out this and that I did this and that. I just made my own decision. Am I mad or upset by any person who chooses to do some other job while also doing theater at a different time? No, man, as far as I’m concerned, as long as it gets done for you. And for theater, capital T, I’m into it. Right? Like, I don’t care how it is. And and similarly to, to reconnect it to the idea that I had where it’s like, somebody says, My life is hard. Oh, yeah. Well, my life is hard to I don’t respect the way that yours is hard as a different thing. It’s, it’s the same. It’s the same working at a day job and doing theater at night. You feel like, Oh, no, am I doing enough? Am I a fraud? Am I not a real artist? If you’re that person who doesn’t have a nine to five, and you’re working all day, you’re like, Oh, my God, what am I doing? Am I a fraud, maybe I should just get a job and stop, forget and stop doing this silly thing. So it’s the same, it’s really just a matter of, you know, where you’re looking at it. So end of the story is, I say we all feel bad. And when you feel bad, it’s not that you should like stop yourself from feeling bad. You know, people are like, toxic positivity, like, don’t ever have a negative feeling. No, I say don’t have your negative feeling. But be aware that like, it’s okay. Yeah, have it?


GUEST  08:01

Absolutely. One, it’s interesting to me to kind of thinking about how groups and societies develop in a such a big part of that is deciding what the values of the group are. And then once once you kind of have that culture established, allowing that culture to grow and to develop and to incorporate other manifestations of what that can look like.


HOST  08:23

What do you mean?


GUEST  08:24

So I was thinking about just how I studied anthropology and university 100 years ago, and I think about how cultures often develop based upon their physical environment and the resources that are available, and over thousands of years, and has the society expands and begins to interact with other groups, because humans do tend to be quite nomadic, and tend to interact with other groups and in culture, other types of ideas and, and grow and change, it becomes like a living organism that grows and develops over time. And so these subcultures that we develop the subculture of people that do and grow people that do a scripted theater, etc, has been able to grow to encapsulate into in include other types of people who have different lifestyles, but who all come together with the same sense of values when they’re in that situation together. So it’s kind of one of those amazing things that humans do, in my opinion, is to build these groups that have their own culture inside, but then encourage the growth of that culture to include new forms of it.


HOST  09:31

You know, my theory about that, is that we can’t, is that true? Like, true changing community can only happen in smaller groups. So like, it used to be where you lived, because you couldn’t go anywhere else. So you’d be like these 20 people around me, that’s my community because like, that’s who you talk to. Right. Then we’re moving around. We’re meeting different people as well. Groups got larger than then we’re taking a boat to another country, we’re on a boat, it’s you in the boat, people mean the boat people, these are my community, right? Then you get off the boat, you have a different crowd. But each time there’s like a period of time, and it’s almost like, it’s almost like now in our lives where like, for me, it’s like gig to gig. But some people it’s like seasons, or jobs or semesters, there’s little, little smaller bits, right. And during those smaller bits of time, we have groups that we’re with. And those groups represent that time, right. So now, as opposed to, we used to not be able to go around, but now we can go around. So now our communities in our culture is based on who we’re with, during this period of time in our life. like think about people who go to college, wherever they go to college, they’ve lived in anywhere in the world, right? They all come together. And for four years or two years, they all live in this one hallway, in this building, and they become a community and whatever it is, that they were doing before with their families, or their countries or their whatever else. They’re together now. And they really care about, you know, Jerome, first floor, and we’re the best. And we’re going to be the ones that win the contest this year. And like, you know, whatever it is they’ve got a thing now they’re working together. So I just, I feel like it used to be space. And now it’s time. And it always is small. Right? So like you right now, you and the other people that you work with, at your school, they’re your people, because you’re going through something together in this moment in history. Yeah. And you can turn to these people and be like, Oh my God, if I have to make another PowerPoint presentation, or get it, you know, and, and even the other thing that’s cool about right now is for like a second, and it’ll fade and it’s gonna be sad when it fades. But right now, the whole worlds together, the whole world, the whole world. And we can turn to each other and be like, COVID am I right? And everybody’s like, right? Like, the whole world across has an experience of this, right? Heck, even the US election, my my Facebook thing was wild with my international friends and their opinions. I was so surprised. I was like, I can’t believe you even care. But they were like, Are you kidding me? And I was like, I guess like,


GUEST  12:30

because I’ve been here I moved to Italy in 2007. So I’ve been here for long enough that there have been several elections. And I’ll never forget my first year that I lived in the city. My first year, I live just outside Milan in a suburb. And then my second year, I moved into the city and I still didn’t speak Italian. And it was it was a fascinating experience. And when Obama was elected, my landlord slipped a card under my door under my door, like a greeting card that was like fancy jewelry like congratulations. So I was beautiful. It’s never free, it was yellow, I’ll never forget that. That’s my perspective, I think I have now having lived abroad and living in a country that has in the past, of course, and continues to have a very positive idea. And in some ways, previously a very idealized vision of what the United States is and what it represents and what it’s like. And to watch that change over the years has been absolutely fascinating. I was at lunch, you know, a few weeks ago, when we could still go out to lunch with some friends of mine who my Italian friends from Ebro. And they I was sitting in the middle, we were sitting at a like a little table bar thing. So we were sitting next to each other side by side, and I was in the center, but the two of them spoke over me the entire time arguing about the American election. They didn’t even care what I had to say, because it’s something that’s very fascinating to the rest of the world. And it’s very intriguing. And I think from now my perspective has changed so much living here for so long and not visiting the states very often, my perspective has really changed in the way that the United States is an international player, both culturally, economically, the power of the nuclear bomb, etc. It’s still seen as a superpower. And so what it does in a way it behaves is important to people all over the world as this ideal of what a society could be, because there’s still that idea in some places that you could still move to the United States. And I mean, not that the streets are paved with gold, no one really thinks that’s like that. But there was still this idealized view of what it might be like to live in the States. Yeah. So it’s really thing to kind of see that and the past four years have been a little rough and a little rough. It’s been interesting to have basically our cultural Dirty Laundry, you know, our skeletons in our closets aired out on an international stage, I think, long term, I think it’s probably in an odd way, probably a good thing. I feel really weird saying that. But I think it’s important that the United States not be so idealized that it’s demons, or its flaws, and its youth, as a culture are exposed and can be, and can be seen in a more. I don’t know, on an international stage. I think that’s really, really interesting. Yeah, I have I’ve had a story about when I go to festivals here. So the first few years that I went to this lovely festival that’s here in Italy in Tuscany. I would be standing in line for the big buffet dinner, and I would be hiding amongst the people that I already knew terrified and shaking because I had to meet new people. And it took a long time for me to be comfortable speaking in Italian at all. And so someone would hear my accent and they would turn and they would say I’ll translate it all for you. They’d be like, Oh, where are you from? And I haven’t had to say the United States. Oh, New York.





GUEST  16:07

I’m not New York. Oh, okay. You are from California. No, I’m not from California. Oh, you are from Miami? No, I’m not from Miami. Where are you from? Kansas, I think would always go where? And it would happen over and over and over. So three years in I told my housemates because we all stay in little bungalows. I told my housemates, I’m not looking forward to the dinner, because I know I’m gonna have to go through this little routine of people saying where are you from? The United States? Are you from New York? No. Are you from California? No. Are you from Miami? No, where are you from Kansas. And they were like, Leah, you’re exaggerating, you’re being so dramatic. That doesn’t happen. And five minutes after we got there, someone turned to me and said, Oh, where are you from? And it started and they all burst out laughing because it was very predictable. So it just kind of goes to show that, you know, the idea of what the United States is very much film is impacted by what we see in film and what we see on television, etc. So New York, California and Miami are the only places that exist. And when I say I’m from Kansas, they always think that that’s also where Bill Clinton is from. Oh, which being from this, you know, we don’t get to make fun of a lot of places I get to say no, that’s our console. We only get to make fun of what like Arkansas, and maybe Oklahoma a little maybe Kentucky a little bit Kentucky definitely


HOST  17:27

Oklahoma, Texas. Yeah, you’re in Texas. We’re not in Oklahoma. Yeah.


GUEST  17:33

Same thing, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, it’s all the same. thing that would just always happen. So



that’s my name,


GUEST  17:44

about how I had to explain myself 95 times and I would just have to wait for them to get to. But where are you from? Yeah. And then someone once also tried to get me to convince them. Well, why should I go and visit where you are from? And I said, don’t. And they were very confused by that. Like, there’s no reason don’t


HOST  18:06

like a very good, it’s different, funnier.


GUEST  18:10

It’ll take you eight hours to drive across it. No, bother. There’s no reason to go there. So it’s Yeah, it’s interesting. People expect me to be a lot more glamorous than I am.


HOST  18:22

Oh, sure. Well, yeah. When I was in college, we went abroad to Rome. And this is 1998. Age myself, and, and I was in Rome. And I don’t know how it was right around this time. But when we told them we were from Dallas, that’s where I went to college. They would be like, Hey, who shot jr? How long ago was this? Yeah, like, Jr. Like, well, that ad?


GUEST  18:59

Ah, yeah, TV shows always came out a few years later. Yeah, people were younger than me. No, all of my television shows. So I’m always confused about Wait, how old are you again? You’re 10 years younger than me. Okay. How do you know the 18? But they know the 18 Yeah.


HOST  19:16

You know what’s interesting about that, actually, friends, the show that was clearly around when you know, we were the age they were supposed to be like 20s or whatever. They the kids are in it now because it was on Netflix for so long. So now, high school kids have binge watched it all. And they are more learned in the details of that. Like, I’ll be having conversation with someone and then like so all of a sudden somebody who’s like younger pops in they’re like, well, actually Ross said, and you’re like what? How do you and like I teach my comedy camps. I’ll be like, what do you guys think is funny? What shows do you watch? And it’s like friends, friends, friends, friends. And I’m like, What?


GUEST  19:58

Really well, and now some of the things That they did instead are so cliche and not okay to say, Actually I yeah, we had a few a few students a few years ago who were in elementary school who were crazy about friends. So we kept thinking to their parents know what this show is about. But yeah, and the fashion back as well, which I think is really interesting. Just waiting for those haircuts to come back. Yeah, we’re just gonna get the Rachel again. Fingers crossed,


HOST  20:21

fingers crossed. If I could write it, I would do it.



Sure, yeah. Why


HOST  20:29

not? Absolutely. My hair kind of already does that. Anyway, go flip a little flip on the bangs little flip on the bottom. Yeah. It’s almost like it’s like the new version of the Carol Brady, is what it is. It’s just a little bit more body to it. But it’s the same haircut.


GUEST  20:49

That is so luxurious. Yeah,


HOST  20:51

right. I also would love to wear Carol Brady like pantsuits like a yellow pantsuit. I’m waiting for that to truly come back or for me to get old enough to wear it and not swear to me like whatever. Do you watch the Great British baking show? or whatever? It’s called over there. Bake Off?


GUEST  21:10

A few of them. Yeah, we need please. We were locked down for four months. I think I’ve seen every show that has existed.


HOST  21:16

I just want my news. One of the one of the chef’s that’s one of the judges Prue, her outfits are so like that 70s like bright color pantsuits like, like mod back in the day, you know, those like beautiful, I just, I’m like, I can’t wait until I’m as old no offense. I’m sorry. Prue, you are beautiful, no matter how old you are. But like, Yeah, but like, I can’t wait till I’m old enough to wear those outfits. Right now. People would be like, Ah, yeah, a little too much too early.


GUEST  21:50

Right. You hit a certain point where it just becomes, yeah, girl do it. But if you do it a little too young. It’s like a weirdo. Yeah, but I do think we’ll do it when we get to that point where we’re ready to be like wild and retro with everything. We’ll have nicer fabrics.


HOST  22:05

Paisley pantsuits for the win.


GUEST  22:08

I’m totally okay with that. I just don’t want to wear that. Remember that kind of Why’d we polyester? It was not comfortable. And it’s very hot. Mm hmm.



Yes. Not breathable.


GUEST  22:17

No it but that’s, you know, breathable fabrics. Yeah.


HOST  22:22

I don’t even sell that polyester here in Texas. It’s too hot all the time.


GUEST  22:27

Right. Yeah. Oh, my gosh. flashback of in high school. Um, I worked at the Crowne East dinner theater. It was the was crown East crown uptown, east, the crown. uptet. There we go. The Crown Uptown Theater. It was a it was beautiful theater. This is in Wichita, Kansas. It was beautiful. It’s really close to my house. And they did dinner and a show. So they had all the tables. They had a big beautiful stage and they did a buffet. And I worked as basically a hostess in a cedar there I was a cedar. And this was I can’t even think of what year it would have been late 80s. I graduated 91 sort of in the late 80s. And so myself and a couple of my good friends from school and we met these other awesome girls. We all worked as the cedars. So we would walk people to their seats and say Enjoy your show. And then we would climb up into the really creepy attic to run the spotlight where we always had to use a pink filter to make the owner of the theater look younger. And that’s how I learned that pink light makes you look younger. I still don’t know. True. I have no idea if that’s true.


HOST  23:34

But the stairs were so creepy. And there were so many bugs



up there. It


GUEST  23:37

was so scary. But we took turns doing that. But our uniforms. Oh my gosh, there’s so bad. We called them Roman cheerleader outfits because they were shaped like cheerleader outfits. You sleeveless and the little skirt with the pleats. And they had this gold they were burgundy and I have these criss cross bold and four and two buttons on each shoulder and a little cake behind us. And they were the they were so tacky. But it was like a sign of I don’t know, prestige that we got to wear these and some of our skirts were entirely too short. You know, also one of the girls who’s very proper decided to iron hers one day and it melted to the Irish. Oh no. wonky part of her cape and she was the most proper. of all of us. She always looked like a million bucks. She always had the right type of tights on her shoes were always profit. She just always looked amazing. She still does. She’s a beautiful human being. And she’s still very proper. And it was just hysterical that she was the one with the crunchy cake behind her because she tried to iron Oh, it was so funny.


HOST  24:38

Oh my god.


GUEST  24:40

At the at the theater.


HOST  24:42

Oh my gosh. You know, let was let’s dig into that. I realized I could talk to you forever. But let’s talk about your theater stuff. You’re talking about working at this dinner theater. How did they like you’re working at this dinner theater. They’re making you run the spotlight like Did they train you? Was there any level of like, professionalism? What was the show about? Okay, so


GUEST  25:06

they did it was really cool. And it’s all because which Kansas is smack dab in the center of the heartland, but which is the biggest city in Kansas, everyone thinks it’s Kansas City, but Kansas City, most of us definitely in Missouri, blah, blah, blah, there’s a road called state line road, blah, blah, blah. The biggest city in Kansas is actually Wichita, which costs about four hours north of Oklahoma City. It’s basically if you take your fingers and you draw, you know, from each side of the United States, you’ll pretty much always end up almost exactly which talks smack dab in the center of the United States. And it’s what’s interesting about Wichita is that it is very conservative. And a lot of the things that you hear about Kansas are very, very true there. But one thing that people don’t know about Wichita is that it does have a very rich, or at least when I was growing up there in the 70s 80s, I left in 91, after high school, it was very rich culturally, it had a world class Symphony. We had a children’s theater, there were a lot of theaters going on, there was a lot of there was a ballet that came through. They have ballet schools, it was there’s actually quite a bit of arts going on in the middle of Heartland, go figure. So I grew up doing a lot of really fun things in theater, I think I was, you know, one of those very hyperactive kids that needed a lot of attention. So it made a lot of sense, but I ended out doing that. So there’s a lot going on there. So in high school, one of my friends applied for the job, and we were all in Thespians together. And so to have that there were three of us that were good friends in high school that all work together at the at the theater. So they did mostly musicals. And they were I think, really well done productions from what I remember as a high schooler. So yeah, they would do productions of musicals, I remember seeing, we would usually stay and watch the show several times. I remember seeing Biloxi, blues, Oklahoma, oh, gosh, it’s been a long time. Pretty much anything that was big in the late 80s, they definitely did a production of I think they did nunsense, if that brings you back to the late 80s. Um, so it was a lot of fun. And so we also got to spend a lot of time with the costume artists and the, and the actors and the crew, etc, etc. But I don’t remember if we retrained on the spotlight, or if we trained each one else, but show you how to do it. And then you’d be like, I got this and you leave it take turns running the spotlight. And it was just for the introduction, or the man who produced the show who owns the theater with whose name I forgot, I feel terrible. But when he would introduce the show, we would hold the spot on him. And that was it. And then we were free to go. They would also let us eat they did up a fake dinner every night with prime rib and a pickled okra and a huge salad bar. Oh my gosh, it’s so 80s. And then we do as dessert tray where we would syrup serve or sell turtle cheesecake. And if any of the pieces of cheesecake happened to have an accident, we would get to eat it. So that happens pretty often. Yeah, it was a lot of fun. We had a great time just being in that dark theater with that smell of the theater, and showing people to their seats when they were out on a beautiful evening together and families that come in, but usually couples and yeah, it was a really special time. We’re really, we really had a good time doing it. And I think several of us ended up auditioning for shows as well. And that was just really, really exciting. So I did it, I made a really bizarre choice, my senior year of high school, I think I actually was cast in the show, I cannot remember what it was. But I made an interesting choice. I still don’t know why I made this decision, I should think about that. I was really active in my youth group at the time. And I had a position of leadership that I had to choose between doing the show or going to a week long workshop. And I chose that the time to go to the work of the workshop. I think I was a senior and I was starting to get anxious about growing up. And as I mentioned before, that was that fear I had about security and that I didn’t want to live under a bridge. So I should probably go to this leadership conference or whatever it was I honestly don’t remember. And so I chose not to do this show, which I still Yeah, I haven’t thought about that in a long time. But I still think that that was a really, really strange choice that I made. Was it a good workshop? I don’t remember.


HOST  29:31

Then it wasn’t the best workshop.


GUEST  29:33

No, it was a very long time ago and I don’t remember. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting that I chose that I chose to do that. I it’s Yeah, I was very, I was very, very afraid. Yeah. of not. I’m not getting out of the house of having to move back into my parents at some point because I would have lived in a cardboard box before I did that. And I was absolutely determined not to let that happen. So for some reason, I have this well, the practical choice is to do this. So I’m gonna go do that. Or maybe I was down to like a final audition. And the final audition was the same weekend as that.


HOST  30:11

Maybe I didn’t actually get the part I can’t actually remember. Hmm. Okay, you remember that you made this decision towards your business career and going to, you know, women in business seminars? Hard. Would you say? But I


GUEST  30:28

ended up a teacher. And it’s not like, it’s difficult to become a teacher. So I didn’t know I wanted to be a teacher at that time.


HOST  30:34

I don’t know how easy it is. I mean, I feel like a couple of years ago, Texas, at least was like, seriously, whatever we can do to convince you to be a teacher, we really need them. Come on. But yeah, from the point of view of when I grew up, I grew up in Boston, my mom was a teacher with Boston Public Schools, I spent most of my life with all Boston school teachers. And it didn’t seem like it was a free for all of randos. You know what I mean? Like everybody was very much, this is what they’re doing. And really, even now, like, think about it, people, a lot of people do to COVID a lot of people have had to look at the work that they do and decide, Is this it? Is this what I want to do? Because there’s a lot of tough stuff, right? And if you really are like, Yeah, and I mean, before, before we really even started talking like you’re talking about how positive you are about your teaching about how you’re having a good time. That means that that’s you’re in the right place. Like you’re making the right decision. Being a teacher is exactly what fills you up. Right. And that’s what we the only thing you can hope for the activity that’s that you spend most of your time doing right. Sometimes it’s a job sometimes it’s not right now, my major activity is hanging out with a three year old,


GUEST  31:55

right? Oh, fun, but


HOST  31:58

yeah, but it’s also like definitely net was not a thing, that I had a bucket list. You know what I mean? I had a child at 39 ps that means unexpected, right? Like he’s like, nobody’s like, yes, right time. You know, I mean, so it’s not it wasn’t wasn’t something that I thought I was going to be doing. But now here I am. And I’m doing it. It’s not terrible, right. We’re going down a road we’re learning. We’re developing, right? That That being said, bringing it back to you, you made this decision. You’re you’re at this point, you didn’t you could have been in the play, but you decided to go to this workshop. No, do you know did this workshop like lead you towards getting into the right college like Was this the road the hit the rock rolling down the hill towards the right decision of your life, you know,


GUEST  32:49

completely inconsequential.


HOST  32:53

You just stopped doing theater and it was weird.


GUEST  32:57

Because I was really involved in theater as a child. Like I said, in Wichita, there were a lot of opportunities for children’s theater. So the elementary school I went to put on a play several times a year and I was always in those. I remember climbing a ladder singing my little heart out as Peter Pan and thinking you know that I can fly but climbing this ladder of being so scared climbing up the ladder. And so we always did plays at school and then the summer they would offer the summer school classes and one of them was operetta, and an operetta class, which you know, we paid to go to they would put on a show. And so we did things like the sound of music and I was gonna rattle and so I wore my friend’s baby dolls clothes. I was so tiny. I was so teeny tiny. So we did a lot of that we did, of course, the Wizard of Oz, look where I’m from. So every summer I would do these fun little plays. And then there was a group called the children’s theater and they would hold auditions and we would do shows with them. And I did so many shows at the Children’s Theater. My parents drove me back and forth to those rehearsals are organized. carpools for me to always go to rehearsal, and we did a production of Tom Sawyer, and we did the peanuts and I got to be Peppermint Patty. And it was so much fun. And so I was always involved in theater in some way as a kid, up until pretty much high school when you know, things started getting real and my my nervousness about security really kicked in. And then in college, I definitely in high school, I did quite a few plays as well. And then the leadership changed in my senior year the leadership changed in the drama department, and I wasn’t as involved it just kind of happened that way. So once I got to university it I just kind of let it go. I feel like I took a break from theater for from 20 until 30 something How old was I when I moved here? 32 ish? I don’t know. So I took about a 12 year hiatus from from doing anything in theater and Yeah, it was kind of like I took a break from being myself. And then when I moved here and found a couple of bizarre opportunities to be involved in theater again, it just really, I feel so much better. You know, I feel like myself again, and it’s just, it’s fun. It’s so fun. And I find it challenging and interesting. And I feel like it also as a side effect, I think it makes me a better teacher. So I mean, really, I do it for myself, because it’s such a fun thing to do. I’m not sporty, I’m not athletic. But I really, really do enjoy doing these theater type things. So yeah, that’s kind of the journey. I took a break for about 12 years. And now back, well, except I’m in my house.


HOST  35:44

What? So the question, how did you get to Italy? Like I’m here from Kansas, as we’ve established, you know, Dorothy had a tornado. But what got you to it? What what’s interesting is in the story that you’re telling me, it’s like, there was this time where you like, lived this practical life, as we all do, you know, in your 20s, and your 30s, you think you have to, you think you have to solve life because you’re an adult for the first time, right? And then, then finally, you’re like, Oh, I can just try stuff. Cool. And then your 30s you start start trying stuff, but going to move to Italy and then staying there is kind of a wild choice, and


GUEST  36:34

how did that happen? So once upon a time, okay, everybody laughs at me, so feel free. So while I was teaching in public schools in the United States, I came across an opportunity to go to space camp, feel free to laugh. And the first year I really I went as camper and had a great time. So the following summer, I kind of needed a job as most public school teachers do. And so I called up space campus said, Hey, any chance you need any other teacher, Counselor, so I was a counselor for teacher space camp. So I think it I don’t know if it still exists anymore, which is very, very sad. But Space Camp is in Huntsville, Alabama. Yes, we made a drinking game out of the movie space camp. So while I was there, Yes, we did. A lot of inaccuracies that make that a really fun movie. So why was there one year we had a group of teachers come through who were international teachers. And one of them Jane, who is English, but was teaching in Switzerland at the time said, you know, Leah, I think you’d be fantastic and an international school environment. And I said, What are you talking about? There’s not real schools in my head. I would never say that. Well, I thought that these things were just gonna fly by night made for profit type things. She was like, No, no, I really think you’d enjoy it. Here’s the website. I used to find my job. Less than a year later, I had my final interview at Space Camp in my flight suit in the NASA room where I got my job and 20 years. 20 days later, I moved to Italy. What? Yeah.



Yeah. That’s how it happened.


HOST  38:18

So like, was it a thing where like, you got a job? And they were like, Great get here immediately? Or was it just like, you made a decision? And you went?


GUEST  38:27

Yeah, it was? Well, I think I’d pretty much decided that if I got the offer. I was taking it and I was going. Um, so I had spoken with several different international schools all sounded just amazing. And this is the one that I felt the most connection with. I had never even thought seriously about a vacation to Italy. I mean, Italy is an amazing place. And we always kind of had this, it’d be so great to go to Italy. It’s so fancy. But I wasn’t really serious about that I had traveled a tiny bit internationally. But Italy was not necessarily on my first wave radar. So I came here with zero expectations. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. But it was a decision that I made for myself purely because I thought it would be a great opportunity. And I thought it would be fun. And so like you’d said, you know, you go through your 20s exactly what you said, practicing being adult and being serious and being really scared all the time about will I have enough to eat what’s going to happen? What if something terrible happens? How am I going to manage this financially? And I got to the point where I was like, You know what? I can handle this? I think I’m ready for something different. This is something I’ve always been interested in. I studied anthropology for goodness sake. I’m fascinated by culture. And you know what, this sounds amazing. So I went crazy. Yeah. Yeah, I have 20 days to sell everything and yeah, it was amazing. Did you No,


HOST  40:01

that’s, that’s crazy. So you’ve been


GUEST  40:04



HOST  40:05

what, 13 years now? And is it the same? Do you work at the same school? Did you like really find a home?


GUEST  40:13

I do. So I work at the same school. And I’m pretty much teaching fourth grade the whole time, there are a couple years that they teach, excuse me, I taught third grade, the school is completely different than it was when I first arrived, we have almost doubled the amount of students. And it’s, it’s just a really amazing environment, I thought I might be very uncomfortable working in a private school, I thought, you know, it’s when you’re a teacher, you have this idea. I mean, we want to help, and we want to make a difference. And so there’s this kind of guilt complex, similar to what we talked about with the whole, you have to suffer to be a true artist is that you have to work with the most challenging environment in order to be considered a good teacher, if you’re not working in the inner city. If you’re not doing this, then you’re just floating by. I tried working in the inner city, and I wasn’t good at it to be honest. And it was really hard. And when I came here, I after a few years, I think I finally found a bit of a niche. And it is really nice to know that most of my students are going to have enough to eat, they have a warm place to live. And their their basic needs are taken care of. That’s something that’s very, very comforting. And it’s also intriguing to be working with kids who already have a bit of an international lifestyle, and a unique perspective on things and who have honestly a bit of privilege. And a lot of them take that incredibly seriously even at nine years old. And they’re very aware and want to make the world a better place. And very well made kids who have the status as crazy and horrible as that sounds, but they may have access to making more of those changes. And you know, having being able to go to this expensive private school doesn’t mean that your life is perfect. So it’s been a really amazing experience. And working with international kids is fascinating. It’s really, really cool. You’ll be reading a book about something that could have go Oh, yeah, where I used to live, there were giraffes outside my bedroom all the time. Like what? So it’s a really, it’s really weird. And then there’s a lot of opportunity as well, because it’s a more open environment when Little things like when I taught in Florida, we weren’t allowed to discuss evolution. But evolution was on the state testing, but we weren’t allowed to actually discuss it in class. Whereas here if a kid has a question, you answer it as best you can. And then of course, you let their parents know that they’re curious about something if it’s something that maybe a nine year old, might not necessarily should be interested in. So it’s a kind of free environment. Although it is a very high achieving academically oriented school. There’s a lot of warmth, and there’s a lot of love. And I get to use all of my theater games in class, and it’s a lot of fun. Yeah, I forgot your question.


HOST  43:00

Braden told me great stories are perfect. Don’t worry about a thing is like I don’t even know what I asked. I meant to it.


GUEST  43:11

here so tell you how I got back to the theater because I’m all wound up.


HOST  43:14

Yeah. Tell me what happened. You got there. And then the Italians were like, get on stage.


GUEST  43:19

Right? No, that’s not what happened. Well, sort of. So I went. So I went to a brunch Wednesday with a group of friends. And the girl who organized it was an hour and a half late. And so the other Yeah, she was pregnant. She. So the other girlfriend that I gone with and I went in, we didn’t know anybody we thought we would. We was so uncomfortable. so awkward, but the brunch was delicious. So she and I went ahead and ate because it’d be weird to sit there for an hour and a half not doing anything at a restaurant. So we went ahead and ate and we got in line and when we were going to pay again this is before I was comfortable. In Italian I came here knowing nothing. People always say oh, you have to know pizza pasta, mentally, you know. And I was like a mandolins Italian like I didn’t even connect that the word mafia is an Italian word. Like my Italian level was very sad. Very sad. I knew pizza pasta. I did not know mafia or magdaleno. So he barely spoke English, but she liked her lifestyle really like her. So we were in line to pay for our brunch and very frustrated. And the guy in front of us heard me struggling to speak Italian and turns around and he’s English. He’s like, Oh, you speak English? And I was like, Yes, I do quite well. In fact, he was like, Hey, I do this little show. If you’re ever curious about seeing something in English, I was like, Yes, I will do anything you need for theater. I used to do theater. I love theater. Do you want me to pass out programs? Because I clearly thought it was some sort of community theater type thing. So about six months later, I found myself on stage at like the premier comedy club here in On an on a walk on roll with this guy who’s this huge English teacher slash, presenter, stand up comic, etc. Because of this chance meeting. It was crazy. So that kind of introduced me back into my passion for that smell of backstage and that collaboration and that playfulness and creating a character in a story together. I was terrified the whole time. And I have a lovely colleague who’s the drama teacher at my school, who’s also very dear friend, and the first day she met me, she was like, you need to take improv. And I was like, What is that? And so she’d been taking improv classes at TRT boo, which is an improv school here in Milan. She said, you need to do it, you need to do it. And I was like, I don’t speak Italian. I don’t speak Italian. So, about four years into living here, after I’ve done this show at the comedy club that went really well, but I was terrible. I decided after an absolute meltdown, after being on vacation with a friend of mine who’s Italian, we went on vacation together. And on the way back, I finally broke down into absolute tears. Because the entire week we’d been at the beach together, I couldn’t communicate with anyone but her because I was so blocked, I’d studied and studied and studied and I still just couldn’t speak, which is shocking, because obviously, I never shut up. So I have meltdown and decided, Okay, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna take this improv class, because I need to get over this fear of speaking. And I think it’ll be fun. So I went to my first improv class, which was like a, I don’t know what it is in English. So put all that it’s like a open class where you can go and just try it. One of the Italian instructors here is this lovely man, but he’s very, very, very, very tall, and I am quite small. And I tried to literally hide behind him the entire night. Like, I can just find myself standing behind him. And he would just move me back around next to him. I was so scared. And whenever we had to say something in a circle, I just repeat whatever the person next to me said, I don’t know what I said my favorite movie was I was so scared, because I could understand quite a bit of what people were saying, but I still couldn’t produce. So my first two years of improv, I was pretty much silent. Hence, I’m a very good animal on stage. Yeah, it took me a long time to start speaking, but it really brought it back for me. Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun. And that was in 2010. I think 2010 2011 when I started, so that’s been kind of my my road back.


HOST  47:37

Wow, it’s wild Wus did I learn Italian? That’s a really amazing, and also the idea that the art form is open enough for you to not speak the language like that super fun. I’ve heard that in international communities and other countries, where they’re like, yeah, there’s people from all over in the group. So sometimes we just do silent and I’m like, Oh, my God, I feel amazing.


GUEST  48:04

Yeah, it does have its ups and downs. I think one of the big challenges I faced a few years in is that for so long, for two years, I was terrified. And then I did slowly start start speaking and my growth in language has been very stunted because I speak English all week. And Italians are gorgeous, and generous and hospitable. Hospitality is a part of the culture. So everyone is generous and kind and will speak English with you. So it can be a bit of a crutch as well to be a native English speaker. So it took me a long time to be at all fluent. And so I started out in such a, such a vulnerable position and being very much a weak link that it took a long time, even now there’ll be times when I have to say no, I do understand what you’re saying, I can play an Italian I’m fine. So it took a while I remembered about my third or fourth year, the instructor finally said, Alright, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop. No one is allowed to make Lia an English teacher or a last tourist ever again. And it was such a gift he gave me because people want to help and they want to be kind and they want to be generous. But being a lost tourist over and over again, is is a really difficult thing. And I didn’t have the improv skill or the confidence at the time to take that and embrace it and make it something special. So it’s been it’s been a difficult road for sure. And I think that’s more because of my personal competence level than it was anyone else’s responsibility. But yeah, it’s hard. There were definitely people that I couldn’t work with. There were definitely some very awkward moments in classes now and then, but as I’ve become stronger now it becomes I want to play with you, Leah because you play differently, because I don’t know what’s going to come out of your mouth because you never know what I’m going to say or if it’s going to make sense. So It Yeah, I remember one of my fate I have two really silly stories about language misunderstandings and improv classes. Um, one. We were practicing in small groups just in the class. And so we had two people sitting in two people on stage and they gave us the instructor gave us the input, and the input was the full moon. Cool. I know what you know, every check Li You know what that is? Yes, I got it. Thank you very much. And my partner turns to me, and he starts getting close to me and going. And I was like, oh, okay, we’re doing a wearable thing. And then he had his arms out big. And he was saying all the stuff. I had no idea what he was saying, but I thought he was trying to seduce me. So I was like, Oh, he’s a vampire. I understand what’s happening. So I’m going No, no, no freaking out. And then finally, I squeak out something that basically said, Please don’t eat me. And the two people that were watching just they had to stop us. And they were like, Leah, what did you think was happening? And I said, he’s a vampire. And the guy who I was playing with was so hurt. I was like, What happened? What were you doing? And he was like, No, no, I was. I’m your husband. And we’ve been talking about having a baby. And because the moon is full, the egg could go up the fallopian tube better, and we’ll definitely have a baby. So it was pretty funny. He was trying to seduce me and I thought he was trying to kill me. So that was pretty fun. I was just horrified. I was like, play simply, buddy. I don’t know the word fallopian to recycle mat or something. And I was like, what he’s like, but it’s almost the same as English. I was like, oh, man, full moon be a wearable


HOST  51:38

affects the fallopian tube. Is that a common thing? We know?


GUEST  51:43

Everybody apparently knows that. I did not know that.



Go? Yeah.


HOST  51:51

It was definitely a full moon.


GUEST  51:53

It was a full moon. Definitely. And there was another time when I did a whole 510 minutes scene in a class with a guy where I thought we were at home. And he said, Where is the whatever it is the pubblicato. And I was like, Oh, that must be a spice. So I started looking through all the cabinets trying to find it. I can’t find it anywhere. And meanwhile, he’s telling me things. I’m being very supportive. Oh, really? That’s, yeah, that’s a hard day. What about this? I’m still looking everywhere for the spice. Yeah, it turned out that he asked me where’s our parents and that we owned a shop and I had said, Well, do you want me to go to the grocery store and buy one. So I’d offered to go to the shop and buy a parrot for our animal shop. It was really silly. So those types of things happen. But the beautiful thing was no one who was watching that scene had any idea that I had no clue where we were or what we were doing. I


HOST  52:45

feel like that’s the key to improv. Right? Like a lot of times you just don’t know. Yeah, you just don’t know what’s going to happen or, or what is what they’re trying to do. And you just gotta keep playing. So I


GUEST  53:01

find this thing that we are looking for. And it turns out it was a parent, so it probably wasn’t under the sink. Like I just kept looking for it and looking for it the whole time. And like the whole scene became about him telling me all of his emotional trouble and all of the stress about owning this, this pet shop and me being like, oh, sweetheart, that is so hard. Tell me more about how hard it because I would pick up on a word here and a word there. I was the most supportive business partner in the world. I was like looking understood, I was looking everywhere for that bird that I thought was a spice. So yeah, I also have a really weird vocabulary. One time we were given the input of potential poll No, which half the group in Italian didn’t know what it was. It’s the scissors used to cut up roasted chickens. And I didn’t even know that existed. Wow. So it affects your language learning in some interesting ways. Hmm.


HOST  53:49

Man. So are you do you feel more confident now speaking Italian? Or is it still difficult? Because you’re just not doing it on a daily basis?


GUEST  54:00

Right? Yeah, that’s definitely such a factor. You’re so intuitive on that. Yeah. Um, when I am taking classes when I am interacting with my Italian friends, I definitely am more comfortable because it’s more fluid. And that sort of thing. I do still take over the summer since I couldn’t go to any of my improv festivals. I did take some classes one on one. language lessons on on online are fantastic. I highly recommend them to anyone, you feel a lot more comfortable making mistakes when you have that screen. There’s something about that that’s really lovely. So I do still take lessons. I’m still working on prepositions and pronouns, they’re a nightmare. There are some verb tenses, conditional and things like that, that I cannot do. But I can understand them so I can reply in a very simplistic way. So I’m not the most elegant Italian speaker but I can be understood. But you’re absolutely right if I’d gone three weeks without using a word of Italian because I’ve been locked in my house. It definitely has an impact on me.


HOST  55:02

And plus, it also would seem that it’s not like Italian is the primary language of the school where you’re teaching. No,


GUEST  55:10

yeah, no. And yeah, it’s interesting because most of them, um, what is it about about a third of the school that goes up and down, our local kids whose parents work their tails off to send their kids to school, so they can have this bilingual high level education are those kids still take the Italian exams, etc, etc. Meanwhile, they’re also doing our curriculum, they are rock stars. So Italian is probably among the population of students the dominant language. So I definitely have had school years when you know, it’s been the mantra of English, whereas this year, it’s this dos. This group of kids I have this year, even my Italian students are really, really good about I’m a school, so I speak English. So they have that separation between languages. When it’s just Italian kids sitting together, of course, they’re going to slip back into Italian, it’s what happens my Korean kids, if it’s just the two of them, will speak Korean together. The kids who speak Turkish etc. When they’re together in a small group, they switch back because that’s very, very natural. But it is interesting. The other day, I had two little boys in my classroom during recess, because they wanted to code because it was more fun than playing soccer. Your kids. They’re so cute. Those two, God bless them, they’re


HOST  56:23

gonna save us.


GUEST  56:25

Less than those two. They’re also very polite young men. So one is somewhat new to English, the other arrived a few years ago. So they’re both once very comfortable in the English, the other one is somewhat comfortable in English. And so they were coding and they were speaking mostly Korean together. But then anytime they spoke of anything school related, these English words would pop in. And then once I heard them throw an Italian word in there, too. So it ends up being a mixed, a mixed situation where kids develop a sense of using the word that’s the most appropriate for what they mean, depending on who they’re speaking with. Does that make sense?


HOST  57:00

Yeah, I bet you people who are international like that, who do speak multiple languages, understand language in a in a wider breadth, then, like we do, where, where you can say, Oh, well, I know there’s this Japanese word that really encapsulates what I mean. So I can tell you that and you know what I mean, as opposed to using some word in English, that’s like any sort of, you know, like Japanese, I feel like Japanese and German are two languages that have those kinds of words. Or it’s like, this is a long word, that means a very specific thing. Very, you know.


GUEST  57:39

And then there’s things like the word awkward, doesn’t really translate well in Italian. So you could have like a word that could mean clumsy. Or you could have one that means that kind of went off off the wheels a bit. Is that the right phrase off the wheels? Oh, my God, my idiom, wrong. Okay, so off the really awesome


HOST  58:00

rails? Yeah,


GUEST  58:01

I’ve been here so long. So they’re worth for those two things. But there’s not really one for that kind of embarrassed, clumsy feeling of awkwardness. So that’s an interesting thing, too, because it’s used so much in on television. So that’s interesting.


HOST  58:18

I think that’s a cultural thing. Like, I think, because it’s, it’s almost I find that in comedy classes that I teach, right? There’s this idea that awkwardness is where comedy is, and I have to explain to them that like, awkwardness is like, awkwardness is like the sweater you’re wearing and not the road you’re walking on. Like, you can’t the scene can’t be like, you can’t be like, tell me about your character. And they’re like, she’s awkward, like, great. No, the situation can be awkward, but you as a person are not awkward, right? And I say that because in television and in culture, you know, jokes on television, they, they do make it like, Oh, this person is awkward. So she’s gonna fall over murmur like, or awkward, like, there’s that. And that’s not it’s like, you can’t package that it’s like sarcasm people. Like I’m gonna be sarcastic and I was like, sarcasm is not a thing you can be because in comedy, you have to tell the truth is your character because the truth is funnier. And sarcasm is essentially funny lying. So it’s just not it doesn’t work.


GUEST  59:29

Right. It’s also saying like, bring you bring up comedy writing. I’ve done a I’ve dabbled, dabbled in stand up. I find it terrifying. But what I think is really interesting is I worked with a group of people creating a bit of a sketch show. And it was interesting how your sense of humor is defined so much by your culture, but also for me, it’s defined quite a bit by the limitations of I am an elementary school teacher in a prestigious private school here. There are things I will not and cannot say Do onstage because I will not. First of all, represent myself that way represent my my native country that way, although that’s, you know, somebody else has done that job for me. Or, you know, I can’t risk my day job to get a laugh. And I think that there could be a more sophisticated way to get that. So it’s interesting to hear you kind of talk about where comedy comes from. And does it come from the sense of awkwardness? Or how do you develop? If you’re writing a comedy, a comedic piece? Where does that come from? Because I see improv and comedy comedy writing as being quite separate. Of course, I mean, living here in Europe. It’s interesting, too, as kind of an American who lives in Europe and has learned her improv in Italy. When I do travel to other places in Europe. The first thing people often see is Oh, no, there is an American, What’s she going to be like? Is it going to be joke joke joke, but then they discover that I improvised more like an Italian which is very emotive and very physical. So it’s interesting that I have this kind of weird sense of things. And then I also as silly as I am this comedian, because I can be as a human being, I can’t help it. I’m just goofy. I think I lean quite frequently toward the more serious improv that becomes more about sharing darker emotions or darker things with with a with an audience as well. So I find it’s really interesting that comedy, writing and improv do go beautifully together. I guess I kind of got lost in my own conversation there. But I wanted to hear more about your idea. Right? Sorry. But my thought on comedy writing is how much it affected me being a foreigner? Yeah, because there are things I will and won’t do as a foreigner. And also, there are things that I don’t find funny anymore. Now that I’ve lived outside the United States for a while. I think that’s interesting. Yeah. And I don’t know, I mean, do you see, you know, your students being impacted by their own their own culture, or what they’re also bringing to them their, their lives outside of the comedy class.


HOST  1:02:02

I, I generally, I don’t know that my students of any age, are acknowledging what inspires them to be funny, or create comedy. Usually, it’s me, because I’m on the outside watching it. And because I’m teaching different age levels, and ask them questions about what they like. Because some teach some classes I’m teaching, the syllabus is done, it’s written, I’m not gonna, like change it. But I do a summer camp, where it’s a comedy camp, and it’s like, a couple of weeks. And I teach them how to do comedy for a while. And then they write their own stuff. And then we produce the show of their own stuff, right? So it’s like one week figuring out what comedy is second week, writing a show, third week rehearsing the show that we just wrote. So at the beginning, when I first meet them, I asked everybody what they like, and what they think is funny. Because, number one, it helps me to like do research, right? I don’t know, I do not watch videos on YouTube. I’m just too old for that. I just don’t do it. Right. I’m not looking for comedy videos. That way, I don’t watch influencers on Instagram is just not what I do. But when I teach these classes, I write their names down, whoever they say they watch, and I watch a couple of their videos to be like, Okay, this is the person that they think is the funniest person, and I analyze that person based on how they are doing their comedy. And also different age groups present themselves differently, right, like, and different people are. So like, a YouTube people are generally doing a show about themselves talking about a topic they like, but they’re very self, you know, they’re like confident, and they are looking into the camera. And they’re like doing the like, have an effort, right? So. So a lot of times the kids will want to be like that. But it’s not that they care about whatever the person does, like, oh, they’re a gardener and they garden. It’s not that the garden that they like, it’s that they’re like excited, or that they do like fun. You know, they’ll be talking about planting something. And then there’s like a cool meme in the middle of it, where it’s like plant time. Like it’s just little things that people do to make themselves different, you know, to get views on YouTube. And I am fascinated by the different kinds of things. So I try every year that I do the camp and this year, I didn’t do it in person. So it was a little weirder. But like, I just try to keep an eye on what I think is popular. And if everyone’s watching a movie, like I watch movies that are popular sometimes and I hate them. I’m like, What the heck is this? Well,


GUEST  1:04:53

we’re getting old well, but


HOST  1:04:55

also, also the other thing is, there’s a breath right There’s a breadth, I don’t have to like all of the comedy they like, I just have to know how to break it down. I just have to know how to tell them. Oh, will you like Susie q while she gardens, because she’s confident, let’s make your character confident. Let’s make sure that your character has the other part two people want to be lots of things people take theater Classes are generally there to be something different, right? So instead of telling them personally, to be confident, we create a character this confidence, right? Or, or we create theater is a means through which we can experience things that we need to experience with a distance that makes it feel safe, right? And comedy. comedy is just about patterns. That’s all it is. People think that, um, one thing that I would love to talk to you a little bit more about. So that’s my like, thing about comedy writing, and I can teach hours of comedy writing theory and whatnot.


GUEST  1:06:02

I could listen to you for hours about it. It’s fascinating.


HOST  1:06:07

Well, I thank you, I I’m just like, it changes. It’s different for each group. And I and it’s not even like generation, you know, you know, the crap that they do where they’re like Generation X and millennial. I’m like, no one identifies with that, whatever that is dumb. Like, no, it’s different groups like different things in the way that we were talking earlier about cultures and subcultures. There’s subcultures of different things I teach. So I teach a comedy writing course to this girl who’s in high school, she explained to me tick tock yesterday, it was insane. I had no idea. She was like, there’s different kinds of Tick tock, and I was like, tell me everything. And she like, she was like, I don’t think I would know everything. But I’ll tell you what I know. And I was like, tell me. And so it was just like, there are different kinds of people that are producing different kinds of little videos. And the videos get grouped into thematic things because there’s an algorithm on the app, right? So the app itself sees what genre the comedy is, it’s almost doing my work for me. It’s checking out what are other similar comedy things and then putting them together, or all these people dance, all the dance and stuff gets together, all these people are just talking about themselves. It’s the talk about themselves section, like different kinds of stuff. Eight, it organizes, and I was like, Wow, that’s really interesting.


GUEST  1:07:32

I love that comedy and math are going together right now. algorithms, comedy, who knew? him


HOST  1:07:40

right? Yeah.


GUEST  1:07:44

So bizarre. I mean, who would have thought that those of us who we most of us who tend to go into social sciences and the arts tend to not necessarily be the most mathematical people in the world. But we are so dependent on mathematics. And I love that creativity and math have found a working relationship.


HOST  1:08:04

I know what it like, whenever one of the things that I wanted to say to you about your experience was I find it really interesting that you have learned improv in Europe, because you’re right. In Europe, the vibe of impro is more dramatic. It’s more about creating tiny little plays, right? As opposed to doing comedy. Which, right here Yes, is just tiny little plays, but with a pattern. Right. But so I what I was going to say to you and what potentially you could chat with your people and debunk it is that the comedy is not some American comedians are there just to do bits? You’re right. It’s a true thing. Yeah. But the essence of creating comedy is not just smarmy bits, it’s creating patterns which repeat and then return the idea of doing things three times, or the idea of a callback. That’s all you need for comedy. It can be the most serious scene in the world. You do something three times or two times, then you wait a while. And then you give him that third one. They’ll love it.


GUEST  1:09:21

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, I think that the same could be applied in a dramatic scene as well. I mean, I just, I guess I like I love doing surreal, ridiculous things. I’m quite famous at one of the festivals for doing a parakeet scene, where we were three very rude parakeets because I found myself standing in the back of my hands out and it looked like I was standing on a perch, and two other people happen to be next to me and I started going. And so were these ridiculous parakeets that were interrupting this couple that was breaking up. And we were just these obnoxious little birds in the back. So I love the surreal I love the really, I love to be I love to be silly. to have fun and I find really pulls on your intelligence. How well can you remember how great Can you watch the timing? How carefully Can you pull out the essence of that character in a way that connects with something in an unusual way and make something new and interesting. Whereas when you’re doing something that’s going to be more emotive, it’s like, Okay, how can I pull on something that I have experienced to make this character have that feeling or that emotion or that or that character trait? Oh, my God, I teach fourth grade. That’s all I’ve been talking about for three months is character traits. But how can that character trait propel this character forward in an interesting way? So I think that for me, the two, you know, comedic improv and the dramatic improv are very similar skills, but tapping into slightly different resources. Perhaps,


HOST  1:10:51

you know, you might get change. When you said character trait, it made me think that character traits for drama versus comedy, are the reason and this could be why people don’t like to do comedy is comedy characters are simple. And they don’t learn lessons.


GUEST  1:11:12

Right? That’s the comedic thing about it. Yes, in the situation is, you know, the guy that steps on the rake is funny, because it keeps stepping on


HOST  1:11:19

the rain, never figure out that that’s what’s happening. He will never, and if he does, it’s no longer a comedy. It’s a drama, right? When he learns and he changes, and he’s better because of his learning something, then it’s a drama,


GUEST  1:11:37

right. And then in a comedic situation, if he does finally figure out Oh, if I step on the rake, it hits me on the face. So be like, oh, and they’ll turn around and basically make the same mistake in a different situation, which just helps us see that he hasn’t necessarily grown or he didn’t grow a little bit, then it turns out, he’s still just who he is. And I think that is special too. And I do think that is that, you know, in life, there are things that are hysterical, that happened, and two minutes later, the status thing that’s ever happened to you can happen, you know, you can go through those rapid cycling emotions, even if you’re not manic depressive, and you can’t have one without the other. And I think that I mean, I guess, but something I quite like about doing a montage style show is that you could have something completely surreal, something silence, something super high energy, something really, really silly, but then you can have a really important quiet conversation as well. And I think it just adds the dynamic that you need. And I think as someone who who enjoys the art form, being able to push yourself to do both of those is incredibly satisfying. The comedies great. And when it goes, Well, it’s such a rush. And then the more dramatic things are so great. And when it goes well, it’s such a rush. And when either of them don’t go well. It’s like oh, what can I do differently next time. So it’s it’s the process for me is very, very similar. The intensity is actually it’s it’s a different intensity, but the level of intensity is the same. Because I find with things that are comedic, maybe because I’m doing it in my second language, I have to be so attentive, like you said, to look for the callback to look for the pattern, because it’s a word pattern. I’m out I’m not necessarily going to get it or it’s going to be my chance to give the punchline because I didn’t get it. If that makes sense. Yeah, yeah,


HOST  1:13:26

I was like, it’d been hilarious that you were looking for that bird in the cabinets, you know?


GUEST  1:13:30

Oh my gosh, yeah. But nobody knew I was looking for spices that everybody else thought was so funny. And I was like, what I just can’t find the spices. What is wrong with this kitchen?






Really lean in Really?


GUEST  1:13:44

Yeah, really silly. No, yeah, I think there is that weird dynamic of, you know, the jokesters the one liners, etc, etc. And I have to admit, the one liner people are generally they’re fun to watch once or twice, but I find that it’s the people who perform that way once or twice. It’s a lot of fun to watch them. But as someone who studied improv, I want to see other things soon thereafter. Does that make sense? Totally, totally.


HOST  1:14:13

That’s a one liner people, the one liner people need to have been worked out of that in level one. And when they’re not, it’s just because they insist upon it. And then they’re not right.


GUEST  1:14:26

I mean, I do think a one liner is is you got to do it down then. And it needs to be done. It gives balance and it’s a lot of fun. But if it’s that’s kind of your only trick in your tool bag. Good for you. But, you know, it’s not going to be my favorite thing to watch



all the time. No, no.


GUEST  1:14:43

So yeah, it’s I like that in the world of improv especially, there’s so many places. There’s so many ways that you can express what you need to express and and be a part of things and be useful. I like being useful. Yeah.


HOST  1:14:57

So I may want to ask you want Yeah, one final question and then wrap up, because we’ve been talking for a while, and you’ve been great. But I wanted to ask you one last thing. You have talked a bunch about how you wanted to be practical about how you wanted to have the stability, but you found your way back to the arts. And when you did it made you feel more complete? What would you say to people who are potentially on the precipice of that? What advice could you give to people who are trying so hard to be practical, especially these days when potentially people are making so much less money?



But like, how


HOST  1:15:40

can they get involved? What could they do? How did you? What is it that like, keeps you going, you’re working during the day, you’re doing a lot of effort to teach the fourth grade? How do you keep your you know, theatrical self care going? And what do you suggest for others?


GUEST  1:16:00

Wow. That’s a really big question. I think I wouldn’t, yeah, I’ll probably have a different answer for you in 10 minutes. So good thing, you’re





GUEST  1:16:11

um, I was thinking a little bit about what you actually said earlier about how right now, it’s really hard to give 100% to anything, and where my life is, at this moment, I am needing to give the majority of my energy to my job. So it’s just the way it is. That’s my circumstance. It’s, it’s a COVID-19 thing. It’s just kind of the way life is at the moment. So I’m embracing that. And I have noticed, I’m, I’m using a lot more of my improv, philosophy, etc, etc. In my classroom today, we needed a little break we did mirroring across the room socially, distance, of course. So there are ways to insert that into your daily life. It’s interesting, you know, you do think about going back and having a conversation with you know, my 20 year old self almost 30 years ago and saying, Hey, listen, maybe it is worth, you know, taking that risk, and really, really going for it, you know, give it some time set yourself, you know, some limitations or budgets, but then I feel like maybe that would have limited me or something. I’m, I’m really fumbling this, Amy?


HOST  1:17:26

Um, no, you’re okay. Everybody’s journey is their own. Sometimes, making a decision not to do it. for however many years is the right thing?


GUEST  1:17:37

Or maybe the question to do it for a certain number of years is, is a wise way to go. I think it’s a lot about a young thinking a lot about what you’d said about finding what’s comfortable for you. Right now, I’m not comfortable with the idea of chucking my job, I would love to get into the world of teaching improv, especially as in English, here in Europe, there’s quite a bit of need here in Italy. For people who are teaching improv classes that are in English. In Italy, it’s not being done nearly as not enough yet. I would love to fill that gap not only because it’s something I’m passionate about, also to honor the the spirit of my friend who invited me on stage for the first time here who we lost last year. So there’s, there’s that poll, I feel now to do that, but I’m not ready, financially, etc, to walk away from what I have in the rest of my life. And it took some kind of sitting down and going, Okay, what would it take realistically, to walk away from the job that I love to do a job that I could love even more and would be challenging in a different way? What would it take for me to do that? And I think I’m just not there yet. The anxiety, I think, for me of not having that stability would be really hard. I’m, I’m on my own completely, I have zero safety net. So in that perspective, for me, I’m not willing to do that. But I do think somebody else like you’d said, could make a different decision and I would completely respect and honestly support that person.



Yeah. Yeah, I


GUEST  1:19:18

do feel like I’m being where I’m fumbling around quite a bit. No, I think that it depends on you. If you can’t live without doing it, please do it and let me know how I can support you.


HOST  1:19:32

Yeah, yeah,


GUEST  1:19:34

but I don’t think I could have Yeah, I don’t know that I would have survived very well. I think just coming from a slightly you know, difficult circumstances, etc, etc. Making some really bad choices in my 20s I think I need to Yeah, I need something different but there’s definitely in the works to find a way to balance it and to have my pockets of theater joy throughout the day. And throughout my weekends and with my friends. etc, etc. I mean, I have a colleague who was actually a colleague of mine that I’ve met through who works at school as me who I met through improv we work together. And every now and then from across the across the room down the hallway, we’ll do like this whole thing, because he knows what I’m saying. And I know what he’s saying, we know what we’re doing. And everybody looks at us, like, what are you doing? We’re like, we’re having fun, leave us alone. And then we can get back on with our place. So Fine, you’re finding your your moments to do what you need to do to get you there. And if times are difficult, you got to survive first to fight another day. And I don’t know, I just if it’s not gonna crush your spirit. Yeah.


HOST  1:20:38

Wow, that answer so No, you’re great. You’re great. There is a person for every role. Sometimes you need to be the person who runs the theater. Sometimes you just need to be the person who helps that person run the theater, right? I was a person who was a conservatory director for a while at a theater space. Will I ever do that? Again? Probably not. Because I went through it. It was hard. I did XYZ. And now I’d love to assist that person. What can I do to make your life slightly easier? I don’t want to all that work. But I’ll help you with a little bit of it. Because I’ve been there. And I’ve done and I know how to do these things. Right? Yeah,


GUEST  1:21:21

I think we’re all so unique. And there’s so many, especially now with the world of online improv, I just see it blowing. And there’s so many niches and there’s so many need. And it’s also your personal need. This is something I need to do I need the creativity, I need to go and play with my friends now in that. So it’s something that I need and I need, I find ways to fill that need and the way that I need it. And if that need were bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger, I think I would find a way to fill the need. So maybe that’s my advice to people is fill your needs. Yeah. Shove some peanut butter in that toast. I


HOST  1:21:59

don’t know. Enjoy it. I enjoy your peanut butter. Thank you, Leah, for being on the podcast. Thank you so much for chatting with me and sharing stories. Bar perience Oh yeah, I’m


GUEST  1:22:12

a weirdo. It’s great a glorious, glorious, glorious, glorious


HOST  1:22:23

thanks for listening to yes but why podcast? Check out all our episodes on the SBI podcast calm or check out all the content on our network at Universal and HC Universal Network calm


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