Emily Levin is a recovering attorney who originally studied and performed improv in the Chicago area, was a founding member of an all female improv troupe called Lady HaHa, and now graces FST’s Bowne’s Lab stage as a member of FST Improv.
We sat down with Levin to discuss the evolving art of improv, embarrassing your family members, and the ins and outs of courtroom improvisation.
You are a former attorney who also performed improv for fun. Did you ever find that improv helped you with your “day job”?
As an attorney, I was used to thinking on my feet in court when arguing on behalf of a client or being questioned by a judge. Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it that makes an argument persuasive. Improv helped me expand my critical thinking and learn to look beyond the obvious. More importantly, improv enhanced my oral argument skills when I had to appear in court. Very often while presenting a case, a judge would stop and ask questions, ask for clarification, or cite an opposing law. Improv enabled me to be totally in the moment and to respond without hesitation in a clear and concise manner.
You’ve been doing improv for 15 years now. What continues to surprise you about the art form?
What surprises me is that improv is continually reinventing itself as an art form. When I first started improvising, short-form dominated. In the intervening years, the definition of improv has expanded to include long-form, musical improv, narrative improv, genre-specific improv and many other formats. Groups like Upright Citizens Brigade and The Groundlings continue to refine the art form. Every year at the Sarasota Improv Festival, I am amazed by the diversity and variety of improv represented. There’s no no limit to where improv will go.
Describe your favorite improv scene or story.
Yikes! It’s practically impossible to pick out one favorite improv scene.
One of my favorite improv games to play is “Genre Roller Coaster.” I enjoy changing up a scene by presenting it through the prism of different film or theatre genres. For instance, the game enables you to be a Shakespearean heroine, a Tennessee Williams southern belle, a Broadway singer, and a film noir private eye all in the same scene.
What’s your favorite FST show to perform and why?
I like short-form and long-form improv, so I love performing in FST Comedy FreeStyle because it mixes them together. In the show, we have the freedom to tell a fast-paced story and weave a fun, short-form game into the mix organically.
Does the fact that you do improv affect your family at all? Have any friends or family members given it a try because of you?
My family has always been very supportive – although frequently embarrassed – by my improvising. My oldest daughter actually signed me up and paid for my first improv class. It’s ironic that, while she set me on this path, she is still embarrassed when she sees me perform. I look out in the audience and see her cringing – I consider that an accomplishment. My youngest daughter thinks that it is cool. I know that both of my daughter and my husband are proud of me.
I can’t claim credit for inspiring any family or friends to try improv, but I can take credit for adding to ticket sales! When they come to see me perform, I have my own personal cheering section.
Watch Emily Levin and other improvisers make scenes, songs, and characters up on the spot! FST Improv performs every Saturday and select Fridays in FST’s Bowne’s Lab. For tickets, click here.