Lauren Stein is Bringing Improv to the Masses

Published: July 13th 2010
in Culture » Stage

Lauren Stein
Pic: Courtesy of Lauren Stein
Getting creative at Laurentina's Improv Club
Pic: Courtesy of Lauren Stein

Seven of us stand in a circle in the bare upstairs room of a rickety old house on Spadina Road. For the evening, we all have new identities: Thelle (real name Lauren Stein) is the leader of the group; there’s also Moe, Mmm, Jurij, Shiran and Lilfoot. In improv comedy you can be whoever you want to be, and creating new personas is just one step to shaking off your inhibitions and the professional role you embody in your everyday life. 


I’m told the last journalist to cover an improv session was the best performer out of all of them, so I have a lot to live up to. Thelle starts with a few warm-up games to get us comfortable and then eases us into an improvised musical circle. From there she gradually builds to more complicated games, until we’re arguing in imaginary grocery stores, crafting impromptu speeches, and impersonating new characters – stoners, rednecks, criminals fleeing the mob – as we hop in and out of make-believe cars. Thelle throws in helpful tips from time to time: always have a concluding line in mind so your scene doesn’t peter off; establish a who-what-where in each new tableau during the game of Freeze. 


It’s little hints like these, and the self-reflection component that Stein builds into each class, that make Laurentina’s Improv Club more than just two hours of playtime. We’re also building social, professional and acting skills, but we’re having too much fun to notice.


“In improv you get to be spontaneous,” says Stein after the class, as we retire to the makeshift bedroom next door to the living room (the house is owned by Forest Hill Jewish Centre, and her club splits time between it and a location in Kensington Market). “It builds your confidence. You are in control of everything, whether you have religious obligations that prevent you from touching someone, whether you don’t want other people’s words in your head, or whether you just want to do something different every night.”


Stein, 25, has always been a performer. She received her undergraduate degree in drama from the University of Guelph, trained at Impatient Theatre Company in Toronto, and taught improv workshops on a circus farm in Hawaii before launching her $15 drop-in classes in March 2009 with two partners. After the leadership shrunk to just her, Stein revitalized her classes in May by increasing the volume (they now run every week), creating a membership card, and adding post-class activities such as potlucks, Free Stuff Swaps and arts and crafts. She also plans to bridge with other improv troupes in the city and make her club a permanent, long-term fixture.  “I want to do things all over Toronto,” she says. “Just kind of liven up the city. I want improv to be as big as yoga has come, as big as any other trend for self-improvement.”


Related articles: (stage, improv, improv comedy, lauren stein, laurentinas improv club)

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