Impro World Tour

Ramblings and Wonderings of a world of Improvisation
Browsing Stories Come and Go

ISABELLA! (an inspiring improviser)



Women in improvisation (and often in life) become the shadows of the men they stand on stage with. Many groups aspire to draw women into their company only to pigeon-hole them into the roles of mothers, daughters, sexual images and princesses. It’s a tired, dark observation and a tedious, slow changing reality.

I’d like you to meet someone. Her name is Isabella.

I met her three days ago and was instantly inspired by her intelligence, humour, ability and strength. Isabella is a dark haired, Italian Improviser who speaks many languages, skilled in character work, literature, poetry and the star of her company. She started when she was 14 and quickly became the co-organizer of her troupe. She has performed for Kings, Queens and politicians as well as kids and people on the street. She is recognized as possibly the BEST improviser you might ever meet.

Here’s her secret.

She is respected and was given opportunity to express herself. AND she expressed herself. And she owned the space where she stood. She embraced all sides of her gender, personality, social background, and being. She did what all good improvisers do. She improvised with vulnerability and strength in balance. She is not a female improviser. She is an improviser in a group of improvisers. She makes no apologies for what she has to offer and no aggressive fight to be more than what she brings to the stage.

Isabella Adreini… died giving birth to a child on the way back to Italy after a show in France.

I met Isabella on Wikipedia while researching an article on commedia dell’arte?Isabella Andreini

Isabella Adreini (1562 – 10 June 1604) was a member of one of the first and most influential Commedia groups –Compagnia dei Comici Gelosi. At 14 she began performances with The Gelosi.   At a time when there were few if any women on stages anywhere in the world, Isabella became a star.

She wrote. She improvised in an art form that didn’t even have it’s formal name until years later. Eventually she ran the company with the man she married.

There are many distinguishing events in her life where she broke the mould of who she should be and became the person she was.

In 1601 she was integrated into the literary society of the Accademia degli Intenti of Pavia. She was a published playwright and poet. There was an account of one performance that thrilled the audience with her ability to imitate all the characters in the play including the men, the various languages and dialects and characters. One of the stock characters of commedia dell’arte was fashioned after her portrayal and is known by her name, Isabella.

After her death, the city of Lyon gave her a tribute that was akin to a state funeral. But it was her husband, Francesco Andreini who gave her the highest symbol of honour. So shaken by the death of his Isabella, Francesco announced the immediate end to the company.  A great performer in his own right, Francesco Andreini never performed again. He spent the rest of his days compiling, publishing and promoting Isabella’s written work.

By all accounts Isabella Andreini enjoyed what she did. She was exceptional at it and did it with passion. She helped make her style of Improvisation popular and made women on stage possible.

Pioneers who step from the known world into the unknown, leave this place with more light than the one they were born into. An improviser is always looking for that darkness to shed light on. Where the moth is drawn to the safety of light, good improvisers are pulled by the mystery in the shadows.   Where there is nothing, define.  Where there is little of worth, make it better.  Where there is ignorance, shed light.



Anna Freud said, “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.”

Yes… well… This was 10 minutes ago:

I’m on a bus… watching a mother with her 6 year old daughter.

Mom is disconnected from the smiley little girl.  She’s sucking away on her Starbucks drink while she texts and talks on her “smart phone”. The mother’s friend is about the same age (late 20’s) She is doing the same as the mother. The little girl sits between them like  a little pink book between cold dark bookends.

The little dark haired girl is holding a yellow flower and touching the petals just like the adults are  touching the phones. The kid is singing happily to herself and the daisy.

The mother looks down… She says, “STOP SINGING!   You are always singing.  Stop it”.

The kid shuts up.  But she  doesn’t lose her positive quality.  (that will happen soon I fear).

Just as I go to get off the bus, the little girl starts singing again.
There’s hope.

The problem is with Anna Freud’s thoughts that “Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training” is that the minds that do not survive are the one’s we see everyday on buses with “smart phones” telling their children to “STOP SINGING”…

Keep singing.
Draw outside the lines.
Write poetry because you want to
Break some rules occasionally

Sounds like a Plan to me!


Some people believe you should walk on stage with absolutely nothing.  I disagree.

Some people say you should plan nothing.  That’s impossible.  If I learn to juggle and then I happen to be in a scene, I’ll use that skill right?  We can agree that is not “wrong”.  And we are built with bias, prejudice and ignorance right… I bring those on stage and they become part of the work.  WHY would I not consciously incorporate, wisdom, knowledge and inspiration on stage?

Shawn and kayla in a scene... DANGEROUS

This idea that having a thought before you open your mouth to speak is somehow cheating as an improviser is absurd.  IF you planned all your work and stuck to all your ideas then maybe you would have swung too far to one side in what is healthy for an improviser.  But don’t confuse thoughts and ideas as wrong improvising.

In some formats for example (Micetro or Gorilla) it’s beneficial to walk into the work with inspiration.  I like the idea of knowing my partner and bringing some of their story into the work.

Sandy was feeling uninspired about life and not sure of her direction.  She was torn between making lots of money in a boring job or struggling with an artistic path.  She was a talented girl and my vote was the happy struggle towards passion… Soooo.. near the beginning of the scene where I was a street person and she was an uninspired business person, the theme of her life came out and the story that I had thought about before started to play out.

It was fantastic.  At one point I had a five dollar bill (I think it was a fake, but it looked real).  I started teasing her about how much the money meant to her and how little it meant to me because there was nothing to spend it on.  I had friends, food came from toss away restaurants and I lived in a warm place under a bridge with other homeless friends.
It got to the point where I ripped the money in two.  The audience let out a loud and distinct gasp.  It was one of those moments that you remember for a long time because of how unified the audience was.  Together they had an emotion that was not laughter in an improvised show.  And it was easy to use their experience to continue the scene’s theme about the importance and worth we put on this piece of paper.

The plan was worth it and the experience was memorable.  It was not 100% planned nor unplanned.  But WHY NOT?  If I scripted the piece and rehearsed it, I could see the problem.