RSS Feed

How Laughter and Improvisation Have Changed My Life

How Laughter and Improvisation Have Changed My Life

I moved to L.A. to make people laugh.

After I graduated from college and finished my student teaching, I had to figure out what I wanted to do “next.” I knew I wanted to find a teaching job, but where? And what else? My mom asked me what I wanted to do, and what I was good at. I said, “Sometimes I think all I’m good at is making people laugh.”

When I was a kid, I loved to “perform” – I did impersonations of people all the time – one of the earliest was Lily Tomlin’s Edith Anne character. I also did shows at retreats we went to, and constantly walked around doing different accents. Reading a story to kids turned into a smorgasbord of voices and accents – as if I was doing a one-woman table read. We discussed what that meant, and it led to me look for a job in Los Angeles and take acting classes. That was the plan.

Laughter introduced me to a fantastic mentor.

I took an improv class through the UCLA Extension during my first year teaching. It was held in one of the buildings in Universal Citywalk. I was terrified. I had no idea what to expect. My teacher’s name was Cynthia, and she taught me so much! Always say yes. That was the first rule. (Honestly? It’s a good rule for life in general.) I took a few classes from Cynthia. I went to a continuing class of hers at a theater on La Cienega that had different people rotating in and out. It was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. One thing she always told me when I froze on stage was “Spit it the $@&* out!” and something would inevitably come out of my mouth and the scene would continue. The foundations she taught me in improv class helped me to be more confident – not just in stage, but in life.


She encouraged me to take classes at the Groundlings and told me about her former student, Lisa. Lisa ended up being my teacher in the beginning class, and talked with me personally about how I could improve. (She was only there a few weeks. Apparently she got a job on a tv show that became ridiculously popular and ended up running for ten years.) I stayed at the Groundlings for 2 sessions and learned a lot before moving on to become a Studio Guide at Universal Studios.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.45.34 PM

The Groundlings, where so many comedic actors got their start.

Laughter got me a great, fun job.

Part of what got me the gig at Universal was my background in improv. The two people in charge of hiring the day I went in for the cattle call circled the Groundlings on my application. Not to mention, being able to improvise and think on my feet helped during the interview portion, and when I had to go up in front of the group and talk about something until they told me to wrap it up.

My first day on the job, with the monster.

My first day on the job, with the monster.

I loved working at Universal! I got to “perform” in front of large groups of people several times a day, meet great people who had similar interests to me, and got great opportunities to perform in showcases and take workshops with acting teachers. It was at Universal where I joined an Improv group called “On the Spot.” We performed every Friday at The Wild Side Theatre in North Hollywood, had shows at local colleges and hotels, and overall had a blast. We tried to do fun, interesting things to change up the show each week, and I LOVED getting a good laugh from the crowds! (Side note – my group performed an hour before the group that my husband performed with. We never met the whole time we were performing there.)

Laughter gave me a steady teaching job

I took a year off from teaching and went back to school to clear my credential. During that time, I started working at Universal Studios, this time in the VIP office. I used to book VIP tours for various people and groups – and got to meet celebrities. (I also worked with some great people that year up in that office!)Once I finished my credential, I went to a job fair with my roommate, who was also looking for a teaching job. I passed my resumes around to several school districts, and hoped I’d get a call.

When the call came from Penny from the Fairgrove Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, I couldn’t believe it! All my acting, comedy, and other performing experience was bringing me to a job I’d dreamed of. I got to teach AND share my passion for performing. It was amazing! I taught improv games, how to write and perform a monologue, and how to Swing Dance to the kids in the performing arts elective, as well as pilot a fantastic theater program in my classroom where we put on plays all the time! I even got to perform in some of the big shows we did.

Doing the "Kindergarten Conga" with a fellow teacher and all the kids.

Doing the “Kindergarten Conga” with a fellow teacher and all the kids.

Laughter gave me a family.

After my performing days with “On the Spot” were done, I went back to Cynthia’s classes. This time, she was teaching at the Acme Comedy Theater. I took an intermediate class, and then a writing class, with her. It was in the writing class where I met my husband. In that class I learned that I wasn’t very good at writing comedy. When I collaborated with others for a scene it worked better, but when it came to monologues, I was pretty abysmal.

The Acme Theater

The Acme Theater

Wayne and I started dating right after the class ended. One year later we were engaged. One year after that we were married. He started performing improv at Comedy Sportz Los Angeles around the time we started dating, and continued to do so until after we had our first child and it got increasingly harder to be gone 2 nights a week. I had stopped performing by that point, though I ran the box office for Comedy Sportz for a few years, and helped teach the first Comedy Kidz Camp with James, the director of Comedy Sportz L.A. That was such a fun time, and I still love introducing kids to new, fun games.

My crazy family

My crazy family, captured by Rebecca Little

Laughter bonds us together

Years later, we have 3 kids who we’ve introduced to the world of improv. I taught them games like “What are you doing?” years ago. We took them to a few Comedy Sportz shows last summer, and the kids got the comedy bug! Instead of “Family Game Night” we have “Family Improv Night.” Wayne has modified the game “Five Things” so that we each get a chance to leave the room and have to guess. The kids each have their own version of gibberish (though I’m still admittedly not good at it). The kids love playing the various improv games, and even though Wayne and I are pretty rusty, it’s so much fun to just PLAY.

My girls, doing improv on Thanksgiving.

My girls, doing improv on Thanksgiving.

I may not be performing any comedy for audiences anymore, but I’m spreading the comedy bug to my own kids as well as the kids I teach. Maybe one of these days I can do something more, but for now, I’m happy to spread laughter bits at a time.


What to Expect When You’re a Substitute Teacher

As I posted about before, I’ve started substitute teaching. I’ve been at it for about 6 months now, and it’s such an unpredictable job. I suppose any job that isn’t the same exact thing every single day can be unpredictable in some ways, but subbing is definitely different day-to-day.

First, I don’t always know where I’m going to be. Some days I wake up thinking I’m not working, only to get a call 20 minutes before school starts, asking if I’m available. And when I get calls like that, it could be any grade – from kindergarten to 8th grade.

When I get that late call, sometimes I end up putting on lipstick and brushing my hair when I get there!

When I get that late call, sometimes I end up putting on lipstick and brushing my hair when I get there!

Second, I most likely will work in several grades during a week. One week I did kindergarten, 2nd, and 5th grade. Despite starting my career teaching kindergarten, I was probably most comfortable in 2nd grade, though teaching 5th is always more fun than I think it’s going to be.

A perk of working in kindergarten is pictures made by the students. :)

A perk of working in kindergarten is pictures made by the students. :)

Third, sometimes I am in several grades in the span of one day. Some days I get to do something called “Roving” where I start in one grade and make my way to other grades throughout the day. I’ve had days where I go from 2nd to kinder to 1st, or 3rd to kindergarten to 5th. I’ve also had days where I’ve ended up in the computer lab for 2 hours, which sounds easy, but is also boring.

Sometimes I get to spend some of the day watching a show.

Sometimes I get to spend some of the day watching a show.

Fourth, sometimes I have detailed plans, sometimes I have a skeleton of what to do, and other days I come in and there’s literally NOTHING for me to go on except possibly a schedule on the board of what the “typical” day is like. I really love it when there’s something specific to do – and the materials I need to do them with are there and ready to go. On days where I only have an outline or the bones of what to do, I always have extra things in my “bag of tricks.” I bring books to read, math to do, coloring and activity pages, and my book of improv games. The improv games come in handy with the older kids. The younger kids always love being read to. This way if I’m left with 30 minutes of nothing to do, I can find SOMETHING to do.

In the rare case where there’s literally NOTHING for me to go on, I try to use clues around the classroom of what they’ve been working on. If the kids are old enough, I can ask them what they’ve been doing – what the last math page was, or what story they’re reading. Sometimes I’ve got an aide that can clue me in on something. The worst day I had was when I had to make up the spelling words based on the story they read, and pulled something together for them to do in science that went with what they’d already worked on. I’m hoping that’s the worst of it. I know that if I ever have to take over for someone long -term that I’ll eventually be doing all the plans, but that’s different, and hopefully I’ll have all the resources I need to be able to do that.

Every now and then I end up in a class where there's a guest speaker. This is always a nice little surprise.

Every now and then I end up in a class where there’s a guest speaker. This is always a nice little surprise.

Finally, I never know who is going to be in my class. In my particular situation, I know a lot of the kids – or their siblings – because either my own kids have been in class with them or I’ve taught their siblings. Some kids are friends with my children, so I’ve had them over to my house. This is interesting, because the kids really want to call me Genevieve, and transitioning to calling me “Mrs. Miller” doesn’t always go so well. :)

I’m not the only one who’s in this boat. I’ve got at least 6 other mom-teachers on this ride with me. It’s great when we work on the same days and can chat on the playground at recess or during lunch. It’s nice to know there are other people walking the fine line between teacher, volunteer, and parent at the school. I do know that it’s gotten easier each week that I work. And it’s wonderful when I get a class that I’ve had before – where I know how the class is run and the kids are comfortable with me.

One big perk of being at this school for years and getting to know the teachers is they trust me to do things like take the kids on a field trip.


Being a substitute teacher may not be the most stable job in the world – some weeks I work almost every day and some weeks I don’t work at all – but it’s the perfect situation for a mom who wants to get back in the classroom but also wants to be free to go on field trips, or stay home with a sick kid. And I’m pretty darn lucky to be working in a place where I know the kids, parents, and teachers.

A Trip Full of Firsts at Disneyland

Today is my 45th birthday. I’ve lived in Southern California my whole life. That’s a lot of visits to Disneyland – at least 30, if not close to 40. And yet somehow this year I managed to do more than 15 things I’ve NEVER done before, which seems a little crazy.


The first first is deciding to stay overnight and spend 2 days in the parks.

I don’t have a photo, but we took the Monorail right from the hotel and straight into the park, bypassing the front gate. That was a first, and it was awesome!


This is where the Monorail lets you off in Disneyland.

Bought my first pin. I didn't buy a lanyard, but I did buy a pin. :)

Bought my first pin. I didn’t buy a lanyard, but I did buy a pin. :)


First ride on the canoes!

On a whim, we decided to go on the canoes. In all our years, neither my husband nor I had ever gone on the canoes. I’m SO glad we did. It was truly a highlight of the trip. Not because it was an amazing ride, but because I haven’t laughed that hard in a while. Our guide was hilarious, the scenery was beautiful, and it was frustrating to row and try not to hit someone else’s oar, but it was seriously so much fun!


A snapshot from the canoes

First time on Midway Mania - our scores. (not very good, but fun)

First time on Midway Mania – our scores. (not very good, but fun)

First time truly walking all around California Adventure

First time truly walking all around California Adventure


First time on the Zephyr at CAlifornia adventure. This is the view from my seat.


First time eating at one of the hotel restaurants.

First time staying at the Disneyland Hotel

First time staying at the Disneyland Hotel

First time using "Magic Morning" and getting in early - loved this!

First time using “Extra Magic Hour” and getting in early – loved this!

First time on Radiator Springs Racers

First time on Radiator Springs Racers – usually this ride has a 90 minute wait.

Sean and I were a little nervous about the racers, but it was fun!

Sean and I were a little nervous about the racers, but it was fun!

First time eating at the River Belle Terrace (at least that I remember).

First time eating at the River Belle Terrace (at least that I remember).

Could this really be our first Dole Whip?!?!

Could this really be our first Dole Whip?!?!

FIrst time for the family being in line for a ride when it's experiencing technical difficulties (Peter Pan). We waited it out and were rewarded with a the first Peter Pan ride in years.

FIrst time for the family being in line for a ride when it’s experiencing technical difficulties (Peter Pan). We waited it out and were rewarded with a the first Peter Pan ride in years.

First time on the Astro Orbiters (I'd been on the old school rockets, but not these).

First time on the Astro Orbiters (I’d been on the old school rockets, but not these).

A bonus first was getting to 20k steps on fitbit. :)

A bonus first was getting to 20k steps on fitbit. :)

We had a few more firsts, including taking the kids on Big Thunder Mountain, and asking for the first row on Soarin’ Over California (I didn’t want to have feet in my way again) – totally worth being on top!

We had such a great time! We saw more things than we have in years, and made so many memories with the kids! Here are a few photos that aren’t included in our firsts:


I love this sign at the entrance of DIsneyland.


There were Olaf caramel apples in Pooh Corner.


The boys in their matching shirts in line for Alice in Wonderland.


The girls with Mr. Toad (remember they were in the musical “Toad!” this spring).


The view from the teacups.


Gracie first, then Sean, then Mads & Dad on Autopia.


My favorite Prince Charming’s outfit from Once Upon A Time.


Haunted Mansion decked out for the holidays


It was the Unofficial Harry Potter day there our first day. I was happenstance-illy wearing my HP sweatshirt (not in photo). I found a woman selling these cool Sorting Hat mouse ears and had to buy one.


Walt & Mickey


Whenever we were in a fairly long line, we’d see people playing a guessing game with their ipads and phones. We did our own, sans device. :)


Thanks to the Moustalgia podcast, I noticed the gingerbread house in the Haunted Mansion (and the smell of gingerbread).

I wanted a picture of the kids by the Mickey pumpkin, but we didn’t have time, so I snapped this quickly. :(  I tried to get one the next day, but it was gone. So sad.

This was the best pumpkin Mickey shot I got, because they were shooing us out.

This was the best pumpkin Mickey shot I got, because they were shooing us out.

I don’t know when we’ll ever get this chance again, but I’m so glad we did it this time. I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this trip for years to come, especially the canoe ride. :)


It’s Almost Haunting Time!

I can’t believe Halloween is merely 3.5 weeks away! Usually by now we’re well underway with the costume-making and the shopping and whatnot. This year, we at least got the decorations up, thanks to Maddie. As far as costumes… only two of us know what we’re doing and exactly zero of us has all the pieces for the costumes.

In the past few years, my kids have had amazing ideas for costumes that we’ve been able to realize.


Jan and Cindy BradyIMG_5566

A cute little cupcakeIMG_6894

Luke (and Yoda)


Emily, the Corpse BrideIMG_9680

Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas

This year, my youngest wants to be young Maleficent.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 3.52.19 PM

I love that my girls are so creative! I only wish I could sew. That would make this process infinitely easier.

My son, the oldest, doesn’t like Halloween nearly as much as the rest of his family. He rarely makes a decision about his costume without suggestions, and never before October. Two months ago, after we started watching “Mork and Mindy” after Robin Williams died, I suggested he go as Mork.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.07.38 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.03.44 PM

I think he could pull off either one of these!

As for my middle child, who usually has half her costume finished by now? She doesn’t know. I suppose that’s the middle school girl in her who just can’t make a decision, but we’ve given her several ideas.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.11.34 PM

Elsa, only as a zombie!

(any Disney princess as a zombie, actually)

Monster Mash-up : part Mummy, part Frankenstein, part Werewolf, part Dracula

Fire queen: kind of the opposite of the snow queen. Would work well with her red-tipped hair.

(Apparently I’m not the only one who has thought of this: this is a smattering of images that comes up when I googled Elsa Fire Queen.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.17.12 PM

But, she doesn’t like most of my ideas. She’s 11. I suppose that’s par for the course. :(

I will say that I found the base piece of my costume this year. I found it by happenstance while looking for clothes for the kids.


If you’re not sure who I’m going to be, it’s Emma Swan, from Once Upon A Time.

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.27.53 PM

Granted, it’s not the exact jacket. Actually, she’s had several versions of that same jacket. But I think if I do my hair, wear skinny jeans and boots, and maybe a sheriff’s badge, I think Oncers will know who I am.

As for my husband, I’d love it if he dressed as Emma’s love interest, Captain Hook:

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.34.39 PM

but he’s not down with that. :(

However, he can always be his favorite go-to costume, the Jedi


OR, if Sean decides to go for Marty McFly, he can be

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 4.33.16 PM

1.21 gigawats!!! Dr. Emmet L. Brown.

What are YOUR plans for Halloween? Do you buy or make your costume? Have any ideas for my picky pre-teen? I’d love to hear it!!

I Love You A Bushel And A Peck (or at least a half a bushel)

Today we did our now famed annual apple picking outing. We’ve been going for years. Our first trip was back when the 13 and 11 were 3 and 1. Wow. Ten years. Seems like a lifetime. Before we went that year, I’ll be honest – I’d never been apple picking before. And I grew up in Fallbrook – just a few miles from Julian.

I did my homework this time and knew there would be lots of apples to pick, so we called our partners in apple-picking and headed up to meet them.


Surprisingly, we were early enough to beat the big crowds. Also surprising was the weather… it was in the 50s up there, which was quite refreshing!IMG_9290

Everyone’s heading up to the apples!IMG_9294

It’s easy to hold the box when it’s empty.IMG_9296

Always with the eyes and the rolling.IMG_9297 IMG_9299

I picked some good-looking apples, but brought back some kind of weird ashes, too.IMG_9306

Friends give you a lift when you need to get an apple high in the tree.IMG_9310

I… can… reach it!IMG_9313

“C’mon, kids! Stand by the pretty flowers. Look at me. Smile. C’mon, just look at me and smile.” sighIMG_9316

No explanation needed.IMG_9318

If you look closely, you can see Pat walking on the hill. He was told honeycrisp apples were there. Sadly, he was misled.


You could pay a little extra to make cider (we didn’t).IMG_9323

We came upon a big orchard full of Granny Smith apples, but they were off limits for today.IMG_9327 IMG_9329

I got one!


Sometimes you gotta climb a tree to get an apple.IMG_9334 IMG_9337

This was one of only two Gravenstein trees. Sadly, so many of the apples fell before anyone could pick them.IMG_9339

A little help from Dad, “Jake – get the big one. See the big one? Not the little one.”IMG_9342

Maddie getting some help from Daddy (or is it the other way around?)

IMG_9348  IMG_9355


All done! We picked a half a bushel!


Afterwards, we ate at their “Publick House.” Some of us had better lunches than others. :)IMG_9363

I love this kid. Mother and son.


We have so many apples!! I’m looking up recipes for crisps and cobblers and caramel apples.

Happy Autumn, everyone!!


Look Down, Look Straight, Look Up – Neighborhood Walks

I’ve been taking a lot of walks lately. I’ve been logging between 2 (on a quick day) to 5 miles around the neighborhood. When I walk through the neighborhood alone, I always listen to a podcast (sometimes music) and try to find things around me to look at. It’s much different than when I’m walking with a friend, whom I can talk with the whole time.

So, I try to find interesting things to look at.

One thing I have found is the sidewalks in the three close neighborhoods are all different ages.


My neighborhood. 1949.


Neighborhood directly North of us. 1954.


Same neighborhood North of us – 1951.


Neighboring city. The earliest I can find is 1974, which is odd, because I know the city is over 100 years old.


Same neighboring city. 1987. They patch a LOT of their sidewalks with asphalt.


Same Northern neighborhood as before – stamp is on the side of the curb, rather than the sidewalk. 1955.


Last week I found a hidden treasure – a neighborhood I had NO idea existed. Much younger – on the curb. 1986.

Every now and then I find something pretty on the ground.

Every now and then I find something pretty on the ground.


Looking forward, I noticed the doors on the houses in the neighborhoods. I love unique doors. I love doors with color. And I’m fascinated by the variety of styles and eras of doors in all the surrounding neighborhoods. Here’s a smattering.


I don’t know that I could have these doors on my house, but theyre really cool!




The birds remind me of my grandmother, who loved birds.







Some decorations are cuter than others.

IMG_7283 IMG_7280 IMG_7270

IMG_6280 IMG_6278

And every now and then I get to see a view of the city.

IMG_7578When I look up, there’s all sorts of things to see.

IMG_7275 IMG_7505

IMG_7276 IMG_7262 IMG_7278 IMG_7293

What do you see around your neighborhood?




A Night With The Simpsons At The Bowl

Last night was our last concert of the summer at the Hollywood Bowl – The Simpsons Take The Bowl, Celebrating 25 years of the Simpsons. It was SO much fun (well, once we got through the One Direction traffic. I forgot they were playing at the Rose Bowl and that was kind of a nightmare).

Anyway, my husband is out of town (country), so my parents came along in his place, and we met our friends Eric and Mona, who we haven’t seen in FAR too long. It was a great night!

The Bowl was decorated all festive-like for the Simpsons.

It started with inflatable donuts.


There were two big inflatable Blinkies.IMG_7619

There were also cut outs everywhere. Two of my favorites together – Ned Flanders and Groundskeeper Willie.IMG_7623There were also two giant murals.


And several of the ushers had Sideshow Bob hats on.IMG_7627

My son, posing with the only clown he’s okay with. :)


The show itself was fantastic! Here are some highlights.


The first chair, along with a few other musicians, wore Marge wigs.


They animated an entire sequence of the Simpsons parking, walking to the Bowl, and heading to their seats.


They made their way through each section, with the kids asking, “Are we there yet?” (or something similar) with Homer becoming increasingly  frustrated.


This looks like our section. :)


I suppose it was very Meta.


Hank Azaria was one of the hosts, and he was hilarious. He sang in the voice of Chief Wiggum singing various songs, including “Let It Go.”


Throughout the night, he would change costumes to be Apu, Duff Man, Frink, and Moe.IMG_0150

They brought out the Kwik-E-Mart for “Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?”







There were several couch gags by other directors/animators, such as Sylvain Chomet



Banksy, and even Guillermo del Toro, as well as a live-action version. All have been shown on various episodes, but we had never seen them.


Beverly D’Angelo came dressed as Lurlene to sing “I Finally Bagged Me A Homer.”IMG_0171

Yeardley Smith (Lisa) told a story of Michael Jackson when he was on the season 3 premiere. Although it was his speaking voice, it wasn’t his singing voice. The song, “Lisa, It’s Your Birthday” was sung by Kipp Lennon, and he and Nancy Cartwright (Bart) sang it live. One thing they did that I don’t remember ever seeing before is animation ON the actual bandshell.IMG_0181

A family favorite of ours, Weird Al, came out to sing “Homer and Marge” – a parody of “Jack and Diane.” He ended with an accordion solo which morphed into the Simpsons theme song.IMG_0187The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles was there to sing “Spider Pig,” “The Stonecutter’s Song” (I got lucky with this photo)

IMG_0200and “See My Vest.” It was a great rendition of the song, though it would have been awesome if Harry Shearer could have been there.


They stayed on stage to help Conan O’Brien sing the Monorail song he wrote, originally sung by the great Phil Hartman.IMG_0207

Lisa and Bart sang a song from the Sherry Bobbins episode.IMG_0215

John Lovitz came out to talk about his friend, Phil Hartman, and then sang his song from the Planet of the Apes musical.IMG_0227

Vaud and the Villains (a band featuring director and animator David Silverman on tuba) played “We Put the Spring in Springfield.”IMG_0232

There were fireworks (notice again the animation on the shell).IMG_0241IMG_0246

and as an encore, Nancy Cartwright (with the help of everyone else there) sang “The Bartman” which was written by Michael Jackson.IMG_0254It was a great night, and a great way to end our season at the Bowl. The only things that would have made it better were if my husband, Harry Shearer, and Sideshow Bob were there.

See you next summer, HB!




Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 400 other followers