The subject of this week’s Sunday Interview, Lacy Shawn, should be nominated for “Hardest Working Woman in Austin Improv,” with a corollary honorific of “Most Underrated.” She quietly plugs away at a number of improv pursuits, both directing and performing, while teaching and working full-time in the real world. I can say firsthand, after having been directed by Lacy in this summer’s edition of Theatresports at the Hideout Theatre, that she is the most easy-going, easy-to-get-along with improviser I can think of. And if I’m forced to choose, I’d rather collaborate with someone professional than someone remarkably talented. Luckily, Lacy is both.
Years doing improv: 4
Troupes/shows you’re currently involved in:
- Known Wizards
- The Delightfuls
- Reform School for Wayward Girls (just completed)
- Fancy Pants (Director)
Web presence: Facebook
You directed Theatresports this summer and you’re a member of RhinoDino, a troupe that focuses on short form improv. So which type of improv do you prefer, short or long form? Why?
I love unique things about them both and wouldn’t exclusively pick one over the other. I think a lot of the things that make short form great and fun can be applied to long form, and vice versa.
I know that some people tend to think of them on opposite ends of the continuum, but I tend to view short and long form as significantly closer, more like conjoined twins rather than distant second cousins. Regardless, I’m happy to see everyone at the family reunion.
Why did you get involved with improv in the first place?
One of my consistently positive memories from my childhood was watching Whose Line is it Anyway? on TV. Until taking a high school theatre class, I didn’t realize that what they did on Whose Line… was improv as I know it now, or that improv existed outside of that show.
Cut to college: Shana Merlin was a guest lecturer in one of my creative advertising classes (I have a bachelors in advertising that I don’t use formally at this point). I made a mental note to pursue improv classes sometime in the future, as I had a blast that day and realized I missed theatre. In college, I never managed to find the time to sign up for classes. In grad school, I had a long-term relationship end, and I was able to drop my work hours down to part-time, and so I found myself with more free time and a desire for more social connection. I signed up for 101 at Merlin Works, and things happened from there. I caught the improv bug, and had the shrinking disposable income to prove it.
Your boyfriend, Quinn Buckner, shares in common with you a certain quietness—almost shyness. Do you consider yourself shy?
Quite the opposite, really. While I definitely have my quiet moments, I wouldn’t ever consider myself to be pervasively shy or quiet. I’m definitely a moving target on the scale of “gregarious engagement,” and I’d pick a small gathering over a raging party most days (unless we’re talking about a dance party), but I don’t consider myself shy, quiet, or introverted.
This year, others may have noticed what I consider my “energy conservation” mode. I do a lot, and my ability to frequently engage in large social events definitely decreases as my energy output in other areas increases.
I work 40+ hours a week as a psychotherapist in a residential treatment center for kids in foster care; I teach improv around ten hours a week for Merlin Works and the Hideout Special Needs Program; I spend another handful of hours each week developing the special needs programming for the Hideout; I generally have a few shows and/or rehearsals each week; I maintain several great friendships, have a great relationship; and I have a wide range of other hobbies that I keep up with (rock climbing, cycling, Aikikai, crafting, etc.)
All that said, if I’ve ever seemed unapproachable, quiet, or distant, I’m probably observing and thinking, or it may have just been a long day. Feel free to approach me, I’d probably love to talk! I enjoy bits and jokey times, but my best of relationships tend to combine a legit dose of real talks with a solid splash of playful, goofy ridiculousness.
Has performing and directing improv affected your personality in any fundamental ways?
I often reflect on five-years-ago-Lacy, and in many ways I have changed a lot. In other ways, I am very much me, and I don’t think someone who knew me ten, fifteen, or twenty years ago would be surprised at who I am now.
I am more outwardly playful than I was as a non-improviser, and I think I also have a lightness to me now that I didn’t project so much in years past. I laugh and joke more, and frequently enjoy “finding the game,” and finding casual running bits with friends in daily life. As a kid, I was often quirky in a way that didn’t lend itself to being part of the “in-crowd.” I think that improv and the improv community has given some of my previously cast-aside characteristics a space to thrive.
Directing, teaching, and performing has also pushed me to be more of a “driver.” My default state since childhood has been a role of caretaking. At the risk of sounding hippy-dippy, I’m definitely sensitive to the emotional energies that people put off, and I tend to be somewhat of an emotional empath. When in groups, it can be really hard for me to turn off the perceiving of others’ emotions, and wanting to accommodate/understand/address issues at hand. (I’ve been like this for years and years, I promise I’m not psychoanalyzing everyone or trying to therapize you during our casual interactions).
When I first started improvising, my long-standing tendency of being the fixer and accommodator translated into a tendency to “passenger” in scenes, rather than to drive. I’ve worked hard on flexing my driver muscles since then, and this has been good for me both on stage and off.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about quitting improv altogether?
At the end of the day, improv is amazing for me, and I love it. But, it isn’t for everyone, and there are countless of hobbies and fun times to be had doing all kinds of things. If someone else will find more of whatever they’re looking for in their life doing something else – then they should definitely follow that instinct. I’m big on self-determination, and if someone is considering quitting improv, then I would respect that choice and encourage them to follow their heart. (Insert touching monologue music here)
What’s the hardest you’ve ever laughed in your life?
I laugh the hardest most regularly when hanging out with Quinn and Kyle or Bridget and Halyn (now primarily accomplished via Skype). One memory from a year or so ago springs to mind. Quinn and I were in the kitchen, putting away groceries and cleaning up. I was tired, grumpy, and ready to be done with chores. I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we organically ended up putting the dishes away in the style of Moving Bodies (the short-form improv game). I was the doll, while Quinn moved me and struggled to make me put dishes away without dropping them. It was clumsy, highly impractical, and bordering on unsafe. I laughed so hard that I cried.
If your improv style were represented by an animal, which animal would your improv be and why?
I’m going to go with penguin, which I also consider my spirit animal. From the outside, penguins exhibit such a wonderful mix of seriousness and goofy, playful, ridiculousness. They’re incredibly loyal and committed, and they have each other’s backs.
They’re resilient, patient, and protective. They seek partnership and connection with others. Sometimes they jump for ice ledges and miss or slip-slide a little out of control. But they get back up and try again.
Tell us about directing Theatresports with (former Sunday Interviewee) Ryan Austin. Why did you do it? What did you learn about improv in the process? Who was the best person in the cast (wink)?
I was asked to co-direct with Ryan, and I loved the idea. Theatresports is one of my favorite things, and directing sounded like a great challenge. I love working with Ryan, and I think we have great directing/playing chemistry together. Jumping to co-direct Theatresports with him seemed like a no brainer, since we work well together and shared a similar vision for what we wanted for the show.
We chose a cast with the intention of creating a tight ensemble that would play well together and have good chemistry on and off the stage. Every single person brought a unique talent and skill to the show, and everyone was a stand-out in their own way. You were delightful, but I’m not picking favorites 😉
Every time I walk away from anything improv, whether it be teaching, directing, or playing, I try to take stock in what went well, what can be improved upon, and what I can take away from the experience. I try to find a nice balance between reviewing my work/challenging myself to grow etc. while also allowing myself room for failure and risk-taking without obliterating myself after making mistakes or doing something in a way that I wouldn’t if I could re-wind time and make a different choice. I learned a lot about directing working with Ryan, and I love that Theatresports pushes the limits of improv.
What’s your worst onstage improv habit or tendency?
Moving my body without intention. I’m squirmy and fidgety in real life, and it carries onto the stage. I have gotten considerably better about this, but I often catch myself engaging in a number of pointless, non-helpful movements on stage (movey feet, swingy arms, bobbing head etc.) A goal of mine for quite some time has been making my on-stage movement intentional, crisp, and purposeful. I’ve made improvements, but the goal remains.
Now brag. What’s your unique talent onstage?
I’m not sure I have one skill that stands above the rest like some performers do. I would like to think I’m good at keeping things moving and bringing a lot of sincere energy, support, and commitment to the stage. At the end of the day, I try to play obviously and have as much fun as I can.
What’s the “improv dream”?
I don’t think there is a one-size-fits all “improv dream.” For me, I’d love to increase the amount of my time that I put into improv, and to have financial sustainability increase proportionally alongside the time investment.
If I had my way, I’d spend more time teaching both adults and kids, more time growing the special needs programming, more time performing, more time doing corporate gigs, and more time traveling for improv. I feel strongly about continuing to grow the special needs programming. We’re currently teaching improv classes to homeless youth, and youth on the Autism Spectrum. We’ll soon be teaching classes to foster youth. I’d love to make a name for myself in this arena of applied improv, and to further create a framework for this work to continue growing.
On the playing side of things, I hope to continue growing and pushing myself in new directions to become a better performer. I’d love to maintain a long-standing troupe, and to play more maintstage shows. I hope to do something with improv in the future that I can’t even conceive at this point in my journey.
If you were writing an improv instruction manual, what would be the titles of the first three chapters?
1. You’re Already Great!
3. Work What You Got!
Anything you’d like the plug?
• I teach adult and family improv classes at Merlin Works.
• Already love the idea of Special Needs improv programming? Pitch us a few bucks to help us continue growing and providing services to at-risk youth.
• Check out our monthly Rhinodino show at SVT and follow Rhinodino on Facebook.
What’s one thing that most people don’t know?
I’m deft with a wood lathe. I own a midi-lathe, and while I don’t spend much time with it now, I used to spend a lot of time making wooden pens and bowls with it. I once gave a wooden pen to a monk I made friends with in Italy, and he gave me a cigar box that belonged to his grandfather in return. I’m pretty sure I won out on that deal.