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A Tale of Two Theme Parks

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Here in Southern California, we’re lucky to have a few theme parks to visit. If you love speedy roller coasters that get the adrenaline pumping, you can go to Six Flags Magic Mountain. (There are lots of kid-friendly rides there, too.)

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Picture from sixflags.com Batman ride. (side note: everyone’s wearing Chucks)

Then there’s Knott’s Berry Farm, which also has a lot of thrill rides, along with an Old West area, a Snoopy kids’ area, and a water park.

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This kind of ride scares the daylight out of me!

There’s Sea World down in San Diego, and Legoland in Carlsbad. The two parks I’m going to talk about today are Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland.

Disneyland is probably my favorite of all-time. I don’t know what it is, but it reminds me of my childhood, and makes me happy. We recently took a trip there on a day when we thought it wouldn’t be too crowded…

It took forEVER to just get into the parking structure. We got there at Opening, and I honestly think they just weren’t quite ready.

 

So many people at the gates.

Something you do not see everyday… cast members just hanging out on the ride.

Ready to take a trip through the jungle on a cruise

Waiting for “Small World”

Our artist, looking into an animator’s studio

The kids like this ride a lot better than the grown-ups

The ride that gives all kids a driver’s license – Autopia

 

Girls with Walt and Mickey

Obligatory Mickey picture with bonus climbing kid in background

 

Hanging out at the Cantina from Star Wars

There’s so much to do at Disneyland & California Adventure. It’s hard to get it all done in just one day. However, we managed to fit in 21 activities. On a good day, where there’s a smaller crowd, we’ve done probably 25. (maybe a few more) Let’s just say that for a day that was pretty crowded, we managed to squeeze a LOT into the day.

Now, once upon a time we did have annual passes to the Magic Kingdom, but living in the L.A. area, we don’t make it down to the O.C. as much as we’d like (and now that the AP is so much more expensive, we don’t make it down there enough to make it worth it). However, a theme park closer to us has much cheaper Annual Passes, so we got them for Universal Studios Hollywood.

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, I worked at Universal. First, as someone in the merch department, and then as a Studio Guide.

“Hello, my name is Genevieve and Ill be your Studio Guide today!”

After spending 5 days a week there for 3 summers and then working there full-time for a year in the VIP office, I stayed away for quite awhile. We took the kids when my son turned 10, but stayed away until they brought something magical – and one of our favorite series – to the park.

mmmmm… Butterbeer

We’d been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida, and couldn’t wait to go to our local version.

Going down the Starway brings back a LOT of memories!

Transformers the Ride is in the very location I used to work…

I used to work at Backdraft and Cinemagic right in the same spot.

 

There are Minions now, and Simpsons, and Transformers.

There’s a mummy, and Walking Dead, and dinosaurs. All of them are fun or exciting rides, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Studio Backlot Tour. Even though it’s changed quite a bit – with it’s headset microphones and video screens and Jimmy Fallon – there’s still something special about going on a tram ride through real sets used in real movies and a few unexpected surprises along the ride.

After trying several times to connect, we finally got ahold of my old friend Paul and rode his tram!!

Those who knew me in my guide days know that this is my favorite part of the tour. 😉

Universal Studios doesn’t have as many rides and attractions as Disneyland – this is true. However, it does have a lot you can do in a visit. We’ve been there a handful of times since February and we’re not bored yet. One of the best new additions to the experience?

VooDoo Doughnuts!

Believe me when I tell you that they’re amazing, and worth waiting in line for.

Obligatory photo with the marquee

Overall, both are great, though different, theme parks. Both have their pluses and minuses. If you have the time, money, and patience, I say try going to both. Especially if you are an out-of-towner visiting Southern California for the first time!

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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.

cynthiaShe 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.

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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

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.

~Genevieve