Many years ago at a Vancouver Improv Festival panel, Diana Frances told the audience that performing improv is 70% confidence. It struck a cord for me then and still rings true today. Over the last 15 years I have had the privilege to work with Diana on a variety of different projects. She has always been one of the most gifted, professional and welcoming people I’ve ever worked with.
For this interview I met Diana on Granville Island at Pedros Organic Coffee Shop.
Diana started her improv career as a Rookie with the Vancouver Theatre Sports League (VTSL) in the 1980’s. She quickly moved up amongst the ranks and performed as a main stage player for 10years. However, at that time, Diana never felt like she fit in.
“I wasn’t strong enough to get to the top of the pack and they weren’t strong enough in their communication to explain to me why I wasn’t getting any better.” Diana left the company to pursue other opportunities. She knew that if she really wanted to be a confident improviser, she needed to get different experiences.
And that’s exactly what she did. She became the Vice President of Rock Paper Scissors, co-developed her own stage show “Leave it to Cleavage”, and became a writer for CBC (Credits include Dating Diana, The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, 22 Minutes, and the Irrelevant Show). One of her current writing jobs, outside CBC, is speech writing for Award Shows (including Banff Television Festival, Directors Guild of Canada Awards and the upcoming Actors Awards in Toronto)
And although Diana now resides in Toronto, she’s in Vancouver so often that she’s back performing as a guest artist with VTSL. Diana now feels at home with the company. “When I left I felt like a failure. I didn’t succeed,” she recalls. “I don’t feel that way now. Now I’m having fun, working with people I love and respect.”
VTSL has also made great advancements in their support and development of new players. Under the helm of artistic director, Denise Jones, and director of public education, Margret Nyfors, Theatre Sports reignited Rookie League and started the Improv Comedy Institute (the official education division of the Vancouver TheatreSports League).
Diana is a writer, producer, and improviser. You can learn more about Diana at her website: http://dianafrances.ca/
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Wait! During my talk with Diana, she provided me with some insight that I would like to share.
There’s a phrase in improv that goes something like” everything you need is in your partner“. It’s intended to help improviser get out of their head, listen and accept their scene partner’s offers.
However, fresh from a 2-week intensive workshop at The Annoyance Theatre in Chicago, Diana would recommend not putting all your eggs in your partner’s basket.
Instead Diana suggests to “take care of your shit”. Focus on making strong offers and performing strong characters. When you rely too much on your partner you may not be helping push the scene forward. This is the corner-stone of the Annoyance improv technique and it’s a different approach to ‘make your scene partner look good.’
This is great advice for people like me who tend to play a supportive role especially when I’m playing with new people.