I was born in Alpine New Jersey, a small suburb of New York City. Frankly, I think I came out of the womb improvising. My grandmother used to say that I’d get up and entertain a whole room as a child, making up stories, playing characters. There are just some things you are born with, things that are central to your identity, the ways in which you express yourself in this world; for me, that is improv.
I’d often go off script in school plays. But the first formal improv I was introduced to was at Chicago City Limits. Maybe I was 15….a friend’s parents drove us into the city to see the show…when I saw it, I knew this was my calling. I took classes there and learned the basics of short form and improvised music.. Later, when I got to college, I studied with Tom Soter. He was my greatest teacher because he taught me the skills and opened me up to find my artistic voice. I know that sounds sooooooooooo dramatic. But hey, theater is dramatic.
Many of my influences and role models are women, especially ones who combine music with comedy. I was told for years that sexy women couldn’t be funny and knew it wasn’t true. Madeline Kahn. I saw her in Blazing Saddles when I kid and was blown away. She was a sexy woman who was hilarious and could sing. I wanted to be her. Also, actresses in iconic roles, like Liza Minnelli in Cabaret, Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl, and Diane Keaton as Annie Hall. Anything Diane Wiest did was captivating. Then amazing men. Woody Allen….I’m told he let the actors improvise a lot. The Smothers Brothers, Mel Brooks so many others.
I think any improviser I’ve every met influenced me; you can learn something from anyone. You just have to listen.
Later, my fellow Chainsaw Boys. Even though we were a group, performing together, they are all role models and influential in my improv life. The journey I took with them every night on stage only forwarded my skills. Each one of them inspires me.
With improv, I get to be the true me.
Sunday Night Improv is soooo much fun. You get to work with different people all the time which keeps you on your feet. You remember to listen. There’s music, short form, long form, character pieces. It’s a place where you can try new things and take risks.
My most challenging moment in improv came when I took this improv class at Chicago City Limits that culminated into a final show. We opened with a musical form called the blues. Because I was great with music, the teacher assigned me to go first. Standing backstage I was TERRIFIED! I was about to walk onto the stage of the first show I’d ever seen. I could hear the house was packed. Someone came out, introduced the show and got a suggestion. Don’t ask me what it was because I’ve forgotten. The music intro started, I stepped out there and killed! From then, the whole show was so much fun. But taking that first step was challenging.
My most rewarding improv work occurred at Esther’s Pool, a huge venue, at the Big Stinkin’ Improv and Comedy Festival in Austin Texas. We (The Chainsaw Boys) got to perform there. It was a huge house, and audience of our peers. There was such a connection with the audience and it doesn’t get much better than that.
During my entire life I’ve done every kind of theater from dramas, comedies, musical comedies, sketch shows. I’m a real estate broker, and a collegue who was brokering to support his screenwriting got the money to do his film called Brokers, of course. I was young, it was my first film, I had no idea what was going on and it won best comedy feature at the First Hollywood Film festival. I was completely overwhelmed by the experience. Years later my brilliant friend, writer, director (great BBQ-er) and fellow Chainsaw Boy Mike Bencivanga cast me in his film Happy Hour. I played a dominatrix opposite Eric Stoltz. The film won many awards and played in countless festivals. I’m in awe of Mike’s talent and drive…I am so proud to have been part of that.
Where do I hope to go with this? Hopefully on stage as much as possible.
And my worst improv experience? As vulnerable as it is to say, my audition for the Chicago City Limits Touring Company. I studied with them for years and had grown into a great improviser. But I bombed at the audition. (In improv, the crash and burn comes with the job….at its best, it’s a 90% perfect art form…maybe less). But even though they were my teachers and knew my work, I wasn’t cast based on that audition. It was pretty devastating at the time. But I was 21 and didn’t know the multitude of possibilities ahead of me.
SEE MIRIAM SIROTA IN SUNDAY NIGHT IMPROV -- OCTOBER 9 and OCTOBER 23 (HER BIRTHDAY BASH, AND TOM SOTER'S) -- SUNDAY AT 7 P.M.!