The Sunday Interview: Halyn Erickson

Her name is pronounced “Holland” without the “d.” She’s 23, but she’s somehow been doing improv in Austin for 73 consecutive years. Don’t let the pink hairdo lull you into complacency: she will consume you whole. Then she’ll giggle. Then the whole audience will fall in love with her. And you lose! She wins! Halyn Erickson wins!!!

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HALYN ERICKSON

Age: 23
Years doing improv: 5

Troupes or shows currently involved in:
The Delightfuls!
• 
Hurly Burly

Web presence: Halyn’s graphic design & illustration blog

Let’s start with the Halyn millieu. Pink hair, fancy retro dresses, interesting jewelry and whatnot. You seem always to be perfectly arranged. Do you ever wear sweatpants?
I absolutely wear sweatpants. I love them. I just like expressing myself through clothing.

I’m very visual, and so my mood is different when I’m not dressed how I want to be. My look is an ongoing project. It’s just the same as any design piece or craft project I do: I put a lot of thought into the colors, patterns, textures, and shapes. And when it doesn’t work, it stresses me out.

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A Tuesday.

Your first big improv show was Austin Secrets, a two-hour show that can get very dramatic at times. What was that like?
I hadn’t been exposed yet to improv that could go dark or tragic, and I still think it’s very rare to find a show that can access those parts of us genuinely, like Austin Secrets does.

I had the honor of being cast in the fourth edition of the show last year, and it still is so pure and raw. I don’t think I’m worthy of being in that show and taking on people’s secrets, but I’m very grateful that I’ve been given the chance twice! Starting with that show really shaped me as a performer. I think it made me very honest on stage.

Maybe too honest, I’m not sure.

One of your earliest improv shows was Live Nude Improvwhere you performed naked sometimes. Most recently you did Hurly Burly, a burlesque-centric improv show and also a show that involved nudity.
I get asked about both of these shows all the time. Usually from people who don’t approve of getting naked — some because it’s “cheap” (seriously, I’ve heard that exact quote) — and they want their improv clothed and pure, damnit!

But I truly believe that the improv created in these shows were just as valid and hilarious as any other mainstage I’ve been in.

I will say: in terms of getting naked, I did feel more comfortable in Hurly Burly. As sexist as it sounds, being surrounded by mostly women getting naked was way more comforting. It was natural to me and it didn’t feel forced or awkward.

I don’t know if I had the same experience in Live Nude Improv. I was very green at the time (I still sort of am). I was 19, that was my second show ever, and I didn’t even audition for it! Someone else dropped out.

It was a no-brainer that I wanted to be in the show, and luckily they let me join. I got a crash course in narrative improv style doing that show, and I’m very grateful for the experience.

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I recently did both shows in the same night, back to back, and I think the big differences between the two are as follows:

Live Nude Improv is a low-key show, where we bring the audience in. We get completely naked, but it’s very casual. Most of the time it’s not even sexual. Each time it’s new characters in a new world. Plus, there’s also the “second show” going on — with us as “actors” who are putting on a “play”.

Hurly Burly, however, is full-on spectacle: big costumes, big characters, big music, stripping, props — the works. We are separate from the audience. They are the kid putting coins into a gumball machine, we are the gumballs. When we strip, it’s coming from a sexual place. Even if it’s not meant to sexually attract the audience, we’re expressing our sexuality, I think.

It’s extremely empowering, because the audience in those moments sees through to our real selves.

I’m not sure you can compare the two shows; they’re very different. Yes, we get naked, but the context, direction, format, and performances are drastically different in my opinion.

What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed?
I laugh all the time, so this is a hard question. In the past year, it has to be the performance of Bridgeport Correctional Facility at ColdTowne Theatre. I was laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe, and I really thought I’d have to leave just so I didn’t pass out. That show was relentless in the best way. They would completely slaughter the audience and they wouldn’t stop. They had no mercy, they would just keep pushing and it was absolutely fantastic. I was so inspired after seeing it. After I saw that show, I just kept thinking that that’s what I want to get to someday. That level.

Who’s an underrated performer or troupe in Austin?
Norman Tran! This dude kills it every time I see him, and he’s so patient. I love when I see Norman in a scene. He was absolutely fabulous in Camp Madeupponaspotta: Improvised Camp Stories. He will not say a word for an entire scene, and at the end he’ll slay the audience with one brilliant line. I love that. I love his calm, consistent energy. He’s always listening to his scene partners and truly building with them. He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve seen on stage, and the audience loves him. I love Norman!

Norman Tran, thinking.

Norman Tran, thinking.

You and I share a love of The Office. Which character from The Office would you most want to do an improv duo show with?
I want to say Dwight, because I love how intense he is, but I think he’d be one of those improvisors that can’t lose, so that’d be impossible.

I’m going to have to say Erin. She’s always bright and is the most “yes, and” character in the whole show! I think she’d be down to do anything! She’s goofy, off-beat, and loves to dance and sing. I think her big, bright energy would be a fun contrast to my more subdued energy. I’m getting a little bummed out she’s not real and I won’t get to do improv with her…

What’s your worst habit or tendency onstage?
To not jump out there. I’m a huge wimp, y’all. I get really in my head, and I have the worst mantra: “They’ve got it, I’m not needed.” While the first part of that sentence is usually true — because we have a ton of insanely talented people in this community — I have to push past the second part, because I was cast for a reason. I always have to tell myself that the director wanted me in the show, and so I need to shove my butt onto the stage.

Now brag. What’s your strongest skill onstage?
Oh god. Um, charm? I think I have some sort of talent for charming an audience, but I don’t know how to wrangle it. I don’t know how to do it until I’m on stage in front of an audience. I’m pretty terrible in rehearsals, but something happens when there are butts in the seats. Something in me turns on, and I’ll be way better than I was without them there.

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You did a one-woman show earlier this year, The Devil and Halyn Erickson, in which you played a 25-minute version of the improv game Demon Voice. What made you do that show? What was most difficult about it? Did you learn anything about yourself as a performer in the process?
I did the show because every time I’d play that game in a Maestro or something, it would somehow work really well. The audience always responded, and I always felt sad when my three-minute scene would end. I’d always feel like I could have kept going, so I wanted to see if I really could.

The hardest part about that show is pretty obvious: you’re on stage alone for 25-35 minutes. You really see how many dumb ideas you have, and you become even more grateful for all those lovely people in the community who know how to build scenes with you and help you when you need it. When it’s just you on stage, it’s hard not to get stuck. And when I get stuck, I just stop speaking.

Luckily, I learned to push past it with physicality. I think I’m already a very physical performer, but that show brought it out even more. When I would get stuck I would just keep moving and doing things. It always helped me get to the next beat.

I also learned how to get suggestions that truly inspire me. I had one mediocre show wherein I got really in my head, because the suggestions were very negative. It lead to a negative show, which I didn’t handle well. I think negativity, when handled with care, can be fantastic. But I got in my head, so the show didn’t really work that night.

I later talked about it in passing with Asaf Ronen, and he gave me great tips! For my show I take suggestions for both the main person character and the demon character from one audience member. Asaf asked me the simple question, “So did you ask anyone else in the audience for suggestions?” and I was like, “No. I felt like I couldn’t.” and he just shouted, “WHY NOT?! It’s your show! You should have the inspiration you need!”

Such a simple idea, but doing a solo show is like being a horse with blinders on. It’s hard to see outside what you’re doing. There’s no director or troupe-mates to bounce ideas off of.

What will you be doing in five years? In twenty?
In five years, I will hopefully be working as a full-time designer and illustrator, and still performing improv. I hope by that time I will have traveled to do a lot of improv. Maybe more troupes? Maybe directing?

20 years? Well, I’d like to have had a family. And perhaps by that point I’ll be doing freelance design and illustration full time. AND I WANT TO BE THE QUEEN OF IMPROV. I never know how to answer these questions.

You’re a budding designer and illustrator who’s done some improv design work. What’s the best improv poster/image you’ve seen that you didn’t personally create?
I’m obviously a huge fan of Ryan Austin’s work. I love everything he touches. He handles type really well, and I love his illustration style.

Poster for troupe "Indigo Shift" by Ryan Austin

Poster for troupe “Indigo Shift” by Ryan Austin

 

I also have to give a shout out to Coldtowne. I’m such a fan-girl for their pieces. Their re-branding they did is stunning. It’s been the work of a few different designers, but I love their logo, their website, their icons they use for classes and other pieces of their business, their poster designs and ads – just so good. I think their look really matches the vibe of the theatre, too.

Coldtowne – your branding is perfection!

What’s one tip you’d give to someone sitting down to create an effective improv poster?
Make everything readable. Nobody cares how cool your graphic is or how fancy your font is if they can’t read the damn poster. I promise you, readability is the most important thing.

Try and think how long the average person is actually spending looking at posters. It’s not long, so don’t bombard them with a ton of information. Keep it simple, readable, and accessible. I think the best design is well thought but not over-worked.

Hurly Burly poster, by Halyn Erickson

Hurly Burly poster, illustration by Halyn Erickson

Looking at The Hideout’s 2015 calendar of shows, which one do you most want to be in and why?
DISNEY MUSICAL!!!!!!!

I want to be in this show so bad, I need to stop thinking about it. If I get too attached it will be worse if I don’t get cast. It’s everything I love, but I’m very intimidated by singing and singing improv. I have a huge love and respect for it, and I want to be good at it. I’ve had some really scarring experiences with musical theatre and singing improv shows, so this intimidates me very much.

I’ve also had some of my favorite moments on stage doing musical theatre or singing improv, though, so it also inspires me and makes me want to reach for more. I just need to take some singing improv classes and bone up! Also, “Directed by Ryan Austin and music by Ammon Taylor”? I mean, come on. That show is going to be so fantastic.

If you were to write an improv manual, what would be the titles of the first three chapters?
1. Hi, Buddy! How are you?
2. Let’s Just Have a Good Time, Am I Right?
3. Fuck It, Don’t Read the Rest of This Book. Let’s Just Get Up On Stage and do the Damn Thing!

Anything you want to plug?
Hurly Burly is coming back!

We’ve been invited back to our home, the Institution Theatre, Fridays at 10pm during February and March!! Squee!!!

What’s one thing that most people don’t know?
I’ve been watching improv since I was in 6th grade. I saw my first show at the Hideout Theatre in 2001, a Maestro. My dad took me because he was a jazz musician and he used to play downstairs at the Hideout. One night he stumbled in and saw some of it and then came home and told me I had to come see it.

I’ll never forget the way the Hideout looked at the time. Black stairwell up to the theatre, full of a zillion staples and photos. Ever since that night I’ve wanted to do improv. I watched Maestros for years and years, and waited until I graduated high school to start classes in fall of 2009.

Halyn Erickson in "Blood, Sweet & Tears" - her original cheer-inspired show

Halyn Erickson in “Blood, Sweet & Cheers” – her original cheerleading-inspired show

 

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