Monday, January 2, 2017

Party like it's 2017!

Hey you, (Yeah, YOU! Whoever is reading this...)

Thank you so much for your support and attention in 2016! I was so busy planning my election show and getting involved in pointless political debates on social media that I didn't even blog once. The professional highlight for me was most definitely performing at Kaufleuten, one of Zurich's top venues, and having "50 Shades of (Election) DAY!" filmed by SRF1 with an interview on the nightly news. Watch here:

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Impersonating a character, which much of my comedy stems from, is an interesting experience. I not only literally step into the character's shoes, but a process takes over in which I actually feel like I can see the world through that person's eyes. Some may call that channelling, some may call it empathy, some may call it a mental illness...

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To give you an example, I played Hillary Clinton so often last year "campaigning" for "50 Shades of (Election) DAY!" - even up until the last show on election night itself - that when the results came in, I too went through a mourning and almost hibernation period like Hillary. But it's a new year, and in line with the improv philosophy, we need to accept, not deny, and build on what we're given.

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In 2017 I'll be building on some exciting and meaningful projects: I'll be continuing my work as Cause Ambassador for Womens Brain Project (, one-on-one improv coaching and corporate workshops, various speaking and emceeing engagements, PLUS an exciting but yet unnamed new comedy project!

My calendar is already filling up for 2017! Contact me for a one-on-one session, workshop or speaking engagement.

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Here's wishing 2017 will be less about which party you're IN, and more about which party you're AT.

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Love and peace,
Sylvia (aka Hillary, Donald, Sarah, Cher, Madonna, et al.)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why aren't more people happy?

Over the years, I have talked to and observed a lot of people on this planet - it's one of my favorite pastimes. And through my talks and observations, I have found that very few people are truly happy. Truly content with themselves or their situation. And I want to know why.

I have talked to people who earn hundreds of thousands of US dollars or Swiss francs per year yet still feel unfulfilled and fearful of the future. I have talked to people who are pursuing their artistic dreams but live in fear of paying next month's rent or saving for retirement. I have talked to people who have reached all their goals and have ended up having mental breakdowns or even taken their own life. I have talked to people who have never known real tragedy, yet are depressed.

So what's wrong?

What all these people have in common is this: FEAR. We all fear something. Fear of the unknown is one of the biggest fears that exists. And after all, what is "saving for retirement" other than a way of eliminating fear of the unknown? The future is always unknown, therefore we fear the future.

Two of the biggest money-making industries are banking and insurance - and are both built around the clients' fear. We invest and safeguard our money in banks for FEAR of losing it. For fear of not having enough. We pay huge premiums on all kinds of insurance for any kind of scenario, most of which end up never happening, for FEAR that it might. We pay a lot of money for peace of mind. And somehow, as in the real examples of the people I've talked to, it's still not enough. They are still unfulfilled.

As long as we chase money, we are chasing numbers. And we all know that numbers are infinite. Which means the money figures will never be enough. They will never be big enough. We will never have all the money in the world. Chasing money is like a dog chasing its tail. What we are really chasing is peace of mind - in other words, happiness. So how do we find it?

And what does this have to do with improv? Improv is all about losing your fear and letting go. And the way you do that is the same way you find happiness: you do it by focusing on the moment. You do it by not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. As an improv performer, you do it by not worrying or fearing what brilliantly witty thing you will or won't say in the next scene.

Recently I had the honor and pleasure of studying with Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, one of the nation's top improv schools. On the last weekend of the intensive week-long course, we had a student performance at the theater in the East Village. In a group of 16, we were allowed to perform in two scenes, and had to initiate one. Having initiated an early scene already, a moment came where no one stepped forward. I had already initiated, so I held back and waited for someone else. No one stepped forward. An awkward silence filled the theater. This is going on for too long, I thought. Someone needs to step forward and start a scene. I knew why the others were hesitating - nothing "funny" came to mind. Practice what you always preach, I said to myself! So I jumped forward, not having any clue what I was going to do. I grabbed a chair, and immediately another actress came forward and joined me with her chair. Still not having any idea of where we were going, I mimed banging on the door separating us and said, "Excuse me, do you have any toilet paper?" What happened after that turned out to be a scene that our teacher described as "genius". And it all happened from trusting in the unknown, trusting in the self.

It's no coincidence that people in improv classes and workshops often remark on how "happy" they feel. They forget their troubles, they focus, they stay in the moment. They trust in the unknown.

Step forward in life, even if you don't know what's going to happen next. And create your own genius scene!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Do Something!

The great Mick Napier wrote a wonderful book called "Improvise. Scene from the Inside Out" in which he writes, "For God's sake, do something. Anything. Something. At the top of an improv scene, do something. Please, do it for yourself. Do yourself a favor and just do something."

I think of this often. Not just at the top of an improv scene, but when I'm feeling generally stuck. Stuck to create, stuck to get out of bed, stuck to get motivated. I hear Mick's voice in my head saying, "Do something! Anything."

This planet is always moving. That's why we get so frustrated when we're stuck in line, or in traffic, or in our life. Forward movement is the natural flow of life.

Sure, there are times when we like to wallow in self-pity, or bask in the afterglow of a great occasion, and that's fine - but know that it has a time and a place. Too much looking back (and in the case of improv that usually means fretting over the funnier thing you could have said and done instead) leaves you feeling stuck, paralyzed and will bring on more self-loathing. It keeps you from moving forward.

Too much looking ahead can be just as debilitating. Have you ever noticed how the thought of doing something you dread or fear is much worse than actually doing it? It usually lasts longer, too. Try and remember that the next time you're faced with a stack of unfiled papers, complicated tax forms or never-ending laundry. Click "ignore" to the enemy thought that's telling you how hard, or awful, or boring it's going to be - and just do it.

Do something. Because if you don't, the chance might be gone forever. And it could have been something really great.

(Except perhaps laundry.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

How to Seduce Your Improv Partner

Good! I thought the title might get you this far.

Of course, when I say "seduce" I don't mean "seduce seduce". But improv is a kind of seduction in that it usually starts off with two people alone on a stage, not knowing what the hell is about to happen. One person has an idea or impulse and acts on it, seductively offering a line or an action. The partner follows, offering his or her own touch or twist to the mix. Sometimes you don't even need to say anything. It can be communicated in the eyes or with the body. True stage partners will follow each other's lead. There is no boss. There should be no power play. There is no room for control freaks on an improv stage. It's a side by side, equal partnership. There is complete and total trust. There is give and take. No one walking 10 paces ahead, no one walking 10 paces behind. You should be aware of each other at all times. Listening, focusing, almost anticipating your partner's next move in a perfect flow. In those moments neither one of you has any idea where it will go or end up, but that's part of the thrill. The difference is that you have an audience watching, sharing in that thrill.

Follow. Keep going. Move forward. See where it takes you. But if you're terrified? If you feel out of control? Sure, you can leave the stage, you can change the subject, you can break all the improv rules like denying, blocking, negating…but good improvisers will know that doing any of those things will stop the flow and ultimately destroy what could have been a great scene.

Sound like a relationship? It should. Improv is a relationship. A bare, raw relationship between actors on a stage. Improv is about working as a team, giving and taking in balance towards a shared goal: entertaining the audience, and yourselves, for just a moment in time. And when it's right, there's only one other thing in the world that feels as good.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In the moment

One of the keys to a successful improv scene is to be in the moment, to be present, and stop thinking. In life we know that enjoying the moment is something we should all do more of, but it is easier said than done. How does one stay in the moment? How does one truly enjoy each moment? And what is a moment? Is it a nano-second? Is it today? Is it this year? Is it this era? We only seem to truly appreciate moments when they are past, when we see moments in photographs, when we laugh and reminisce with others over fond memories. We can enjoy the past. We can look forward to the future. But how do we enjoy the present?

One of the problems, I think, is that we measure our lives in terms of years. On New Year's Eve, as I write this, it is more evident than ever by the Facebook posts coming through the newsfeed. People muse about what the new year will bring. People either reflect on the fulfilled year they had, or breathe a sigh of relief that this particular year is over.  But was every day in the year all good or all bad? Why let the calendar decide?

To be in the moment, try this: instead of measuring your life in terms of years, treat each new day as a chance to make a positive change. You can be pretty sure the sun will rise, and the sun will set. How many other things in life can we be that sure of? Nature gives us a chance to be hopeful with each new day. 

Tomorrow morning, and each morning when you wake up, make a New Day Resolution. Stay focused on that all day long. And that's how you stay in the moment.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

All I Want for Christmas

An improv show is one of the easiest kinds of productions to put on because all you really need is a stage, a couple of willing, able actors, and an audience.

There is no set as such. I always tell my actors to create their set as they enter a scene. In other words, let the audience see where you are - if you're in a kitchen, start cooking or opening drawers or something. If you're in a bathroom, make yourself up in front of the mirror. And so on.

All I require is that the stage have two chairs Upstage Center. "Use these chairs if you need them," I say. If your scene finds you in a restaurant, or a car, or in a job interview, they could come in handy.

Today is December 26, and I am tidying up the stuff around the home. It overwhelms me. It never seems to end. We humans accumulate more and more. And nowhere is this more evident than at Christmastime, when we stress ourselves by giving and receiving the token gift.

This Christmas, it struck me more than in other years, that I do not get excited about "stuff". The best scenes in life are like good improv. You don't need a lavish set, costumes and all the "stuff". What makes a great improv scene is the content. The funny. The hidden meaning. The unknown ending. Not too different from life.

This Christmas I want to say to my friends and family, please don't give me "stuff". I don't need more stuff. Stuff collects dust, and will only stay behind after I'm gone, leaving someone else a lot of work to go through.

Give me you. Give me your original lines, your funny, your ear to listen, your observations to inspire and motivate me and keep me going. Give me memories to make me laugh and smile and want to see you again and again. Give me you. And two chairs.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Improv for Pessimists

Every once in a while, you have to deal with people that go against everything that improv teaches. Inspired by those folks, I give you…Improv Rules for Pessimists.

1. Yes, but

Pessimists pretend to agree with an idea by saying yes, however this is often followed by an immediate argument as to why something won't work. "Yes, but…"

2. No, and

Pessimists love to say no. In fact, they can go on for hours on end about why something won't work and love to provide more reasons to defend their argument. "No, and…"

3. Take and take

And take, and take, and take… Rather than the fair, balanced and optimistic "give and take", pessimists prefer to take, consume as much as they can, and expect more. In fact, if you were stupid enough to give something away for free, why shouldn't people expect it to continue?

4. Don't be aware of anyone around you

You are the center of the universe. Everyone loves to hear you talk, so keep talking. It makes no difference to YOU if your message is getting through. What matters is that you are center stage. Not listening, watching and concentrating are excellent ways to miss what's going on and learn more about life.

5. Block/Deny/Negate

 At all costs, do not move a scene - or your life - forward. Shut out new ideas, deny reality and use negative language whenever possible. You will be sure to repel people and make them look elsewhere for their needs.

6. Tell, don't show

Saying "I love you", "I'm sorry", "Thank you" and "How are you?" with absolutely no feeling behind it is enough. Gestures do not count. Words speak louder than action. Especially when you're doing all the talking and don't care if the message is getting through anyway (see Rule #4).

7. Work to the bottom of your intelligence

Life is not serious, so don't you be either. Mock people, ridicule them and use sarcasm whenever possible. Taking people seriously only makes them think they matter, and who wants to make people feel good when your life sucks?

8. Don't commit

Why commit? There could be a better offer just around the corner. Keep people guessing so everyone around you becomes insecure. This is sure to create a negative spiral, which pessimists love to start.

9. Don't trust

If it can go wrong, it will. Everyone is out to get you. If you keep this attitude up, you are sure to look (and feel) nervous or worried both on stage and off.

10. Don't make strong statements

Making strong statements only makes you seem confident and interesting. You have nothing interesting to add, so throw everything back to the other person. This is sure to create an unbalanced take-and-take banter.