Lauren Ross is an improviser based in Tampa, Fla. A multi-year Countdown performer, Ross will perform three separate shows during the festival weekend. In this spotlight interview, Ross discusses the state of improv comedy in Tampa/St. Pete, Countdown merch wish-list items, and why Ursula really deserves a win.
We’re so excited to have you back at the festival again, Lauren! Can you tell us a little bit about each of the shows in which you’ll be performing this year?
Lauren Ross: I am so excited and honored to be back this year with my Countdown family!! I am performing 3 times during the festival and maybe some more fun silly stuff along the way.
CYA Improv is back for our second year with our own choose your adventure format. We can’t wait for the audience to help us create a brand new adventure on the spot!
I’m also performing with Honk & Wave, who is back for their second year at Countdown as well! Honk & Wave offers up a high-energy show with vibrant characters and quick scene changes that will have you wondering…”how did we even get here?”
IFTL is making our debut appearance at this year’s festival and we’re honored to have been selected!
Tell us a little bit more about IFTL, which stands for Intense for Too Long. How did IFTL come about? What are your goals for your Wednesday night show this year?
LR: Intense for Too Long is a short form/long form hybrid show that opens with a short form game. Then we use anything created in that game to fuel the rest of the show and explore the deeper themes…some would say for too long. But you can be the judge of that when you attend our set. 😉
This show format was inspired by an auto-correct mistake between my creative partners Tori Baird, AJ Trinci, and myself. Tori had been using the voice-to-text function on their phone earlier in the day. That night, when we were all hanging out and chatting away. Tori was multitasking and sending an email while we talked but must’ve hit the button for the voice-to-text function and their phone interpreted something said aloud as “intense for too long.” It transcribed the sentence into a completely new email (somehow) and when we finally stopped giggling at it we explored the bit of “what things are intense for too long?” Several days later, AJ came up with the perfect way to turn it into a show and in true “Yes and…” spirit, Tori and I jumped on board right away and fell in love with the format.
I consider myself really fortunate to have such incredible and hilarious creative partners! <3 IFTL is performing Wednesday for the first night of shows at this year’s festival! My main goal with this show is to help kick off the festival with an INTENSE but hilarious set that will hopefully make at least 1 person say…”oh dear, I really need to upgrade my ticket to the weekend pass to see more silly stuff like this show.”
Do you have any pre-show routines? How do you like to warm up before a show? Conversely, what are you looking for when evaluating a show immediately after a performance?
LR: I find that I am at my best when I follow a specific pre-show routine with my team. However, that routine changes from group-to-group. My favorite pre-show routine is what I do with CYA Improv. Tori and I start with a 5-minute meditation that focuses on grounding and breath work to soothe any nerves. We also check in with each other emotionally before every show, this helps keep us on the same wavelength and often provides some fuel for the set we’re about to do.
I want to be a “good artist” and tell you that I have an evaluation process where I review my wins, mistakes and list what I want to work on in the future…but I don’t. I do, however, ask myself two questions after every show: “Did I create or help to create joy for others?” and “Did I create or help to create joy for myself?” For me, these are the most important questions I can ask myself as an artist. It’s all too easy for me to get lost in self-criticism and not see the good in my performance, so addressing the issue of “joy” is my way of panning-out and seeing the big picture for my audience and myself. If I know I brought joy, then my mistakes (and there are always mistakes I make, lol) don’t seem so bad.
Let’s talk about the state of improv in Tampa/St. Pete. How’s the community doing? What have you seen recently that makes you hopeful for the future of the art form in the region? And what else needs to happen in order for it to continue to grow?
LR: Tampa & St. Pete improvisers are hanging in there from what I’ve seen! The last few years have certainly brought challenges that are still affecting us directly, but we’re building back! Some of our leaders have really stepped up their game in being show-runners and creating spaces for improvisers to hit the stage (major kudos go to Matt Walker and John Lasavath for all they do)!
What really gives me hope for the future of improv in the Tampa Bay area is our current efforts to double-down on community growth. We are making a concerted effort to provide spaces for improvisers to not just perform, but socialize, learn and grow together. For me, the most important thing and what I believe will be the key to our success, is that these spaces are safe. This has, historically, been a bit of a struggle for our community and I’m hoping to be a small part of that growth in this area.
You’re an avowed fan of Countdown’s merch items, which makes us super happy! Looking forward to the next few years, what are some merch items that you’d like to see us produce? The sky’s the limit here, so feel free to think big!
LR: I will never disavow Countdown merch! I cannot get enough of the t-shirts!! They’re not only comfy & cute (the designs are always stunning), but they make appearances in most of my improv performances!
I think a great addition to the merch line would be Countdown engraved pocket watches and compasses. Mmhmm, yep, you read that correctly. Watches and compasses, because let’s face it we all lose track of time and direction in the middle of an improv show!
For real though, I’m a big fan of FANS! Picture this…you’re about to go on stage and start sweating because you’re nervous and high electric costs have prevented the venue owner from using their AC. The PANIC sets in! What will you do? You’ll reach for your strategically placed Countdown fan to cool yourself a bit before your performance and all will be well. You won’t have to worry if the audience’s laughter is due to your funny line or your pit stains. (Oh is that just me? Cool, cool, cool…)
Finally, on a scale of 1 to 10, how excited will you be to see Ursula inducted into the Countdown Improv Festival Hall of Fame this year?
LR: 10: This war with Dead Bob has been brutal! Ursula could use a perfectly tailored, fitted and hemmed win.