Shana Merlin, Founder
The year was 1995 and the Braves were in the World Series. At the time, Shana Merlin was a drama nerd in high school in suburban Atlanta and had no idea that the Braves were in the World Series. So when Shana and her girlfriends went downtown to catch an improv comedy show at Dad’s Garage Theater, she had no idea that the show would be cancelled—and her life changed forever. But when the volunteer at the ticket booth handed her a fat stack of free tickets as an apology, Shana’s social calendar for the year was sealed. Shana kept watching improv shows and seeing that the people on stage were having the most fun she’d ever seen—and she wanted to have that much fun too. So she signed up for an improv class there, and sucked! In class, they would go around the circle playing an improv game and have to stop when it was Shana’s turn. But Shana stuck with it, started performing in student shows, and was bitten by the improv bug—hard. She found improv used every part of her being: her brain, her body, her heart, her experiences, her writing, her directing, her singing, her dancing, her storytelling. It was all there. And for over the next twenty years Shana Merlin has become a nationally recognized performer, trainer and teacher from the world of improvisational theater. Awarded “The Best Improv Teacher” and “Best Female Improviser” by the Austin Improv Collective.
Shana founded her company, Merlin Works, in 2003, providing custom training, interactive presentations, and comedy shows to businesses and organizations using improvisation. She has been serving clients such as HomeAway, Dell, T-Mobile, and Deloitte as well as schools and non-profits. Some of her most requested programs are on the topics of team building, communication, sales, persuasion, leadership, medical communications, and creativity. In 2008, She founded The Merlin Works Institute for Improvisation, offering classes in improv comedy to adults in Central Texas. In 2013, Merlin Works moved to the prestigious ZACH Theatre campus on the shores of Lady Bird Lake in Austin. After training at the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, she became a lecturer in the College of Medicine Texas A&M University and an associate at the Center for Health Communication at the University of Texas Dell Medical School and Moody College of Communication. Shana performs in the improv troupes B Iden Payne Award Winning Girls Girls Girls Improvised Musicals, the Austin Critics Table Award winning duo Get Up and directed and performed in Dusk, a Twilight parody on national tour in 2010. Shana can also do scripted work and performed in the national touring company of The Intergalactic Nemesis. Shana lives, plays and works in Austin, Texas with her two children.
DR. ROB MILMAN Dr. Rob Milman served as a private practice radiologist for over 25 years and is a former partner with the Austin Radiological Association. In addition to being an affiliate at the Center for Health Communication, Dr. Milman is the Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. He received advanced training in health communication from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. SARAH MARIE CURRY Sarah Marie Curry is a trainer and teacher that travels around the country delivering dynamic, compelling experiences for her audiences. Sarah Marie has been acting professionally since 2003, delivering award-winning performances such as winning the B. Iden Payne Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical twice in recent years. Off stage, she is a passionate coach, director, teacher and producer of improvisational theater and is currently delivering trainings to business and organizations on team building, communication skills, resilience and presentation skills.
TED RUTHERFORD has more than 20 years of performing and teaching experience. In the past, Ted has taught improvisation with the We Could Be Heroes School of Improvisation and has trained various corporate clients. For the last 7 years, Ted has performed with the Heroes of Comedy, Foolish Mortals, Vertigo Ramp and currently with Junk. Ted has a B.F.A. in Theatre from the University of Mississippi and a M.Ed. from the University of Montevallo. CYNTHIA OELKERS is a leadership coach and corporate trainer. Using a mix of frank talk and good humor, Cynthia is known for delivering the hardest of news in the nicest of ways. She’s trained organizations such as Dell, Dun & Bradstreet, KPMG, The Methodist Hospital, Digital Realty, Cintra US, Enspire Learning, Abilitie, Planar Systems (now Leyard), Lutheran Social Services (now Upbring), and has helped folks in the business and medical communities achieve a winning balance of power and likeability. Cynthia has used research in persuasion and compliance-gaining to help over 800 (and counting!) executives become top-notch leaders. In addition, she combines her work in theater and business to help people polish both their interpersonal and public speaking skills. Cynthia holds a Master’s degree in Interpersonal Communication from U.T. where she researched sales anxiety and persuasion. She has also taught communication at St. Edward’s and LeTourneau Universities. On weekends, she performs with award-winning Girls Girls Girls Improvised Broadway Musicals in Austin, Texas. That’s improv, y’all.
For over a decade, Shana has written articles connecting improv with everyday struggles at work, home, and family.
- My Love Letter to GGG With a Dozen of Tips for Making the Improv Love Last
- What’s Wrong With Improv? The Dark Side of Yes And
- How Can You Enjoy Your Vacation More? The Improv Brain as Tourist Brain
- Presence is a Muscle, You Can Make It Stronger
- Building Anticipation… Without Runaway Expectations
- Feeling In Control And Out of Control
- Can You Be Too Committed? Deeper is Better, Until it Isn’t
- When Seeking to Persuade, Listen First: I know, I don’t want to do it either.
- Explaining Basic Improv Made My Kid Cry: Moms, ruining everything since 1901.
- When Improv Gets Personal: How much should we be expected to share? In class? On stage?
- Life and Death and Improv: What kind of failures are we celebrating?
- What Do We Want? Authenticity! When Do We Want It? Whenever It Feels Right To You.
- 1) Notice More 2) Use Everything 3) … Wait, what’s number three again?
- Nostalgia is for Suckers: Things are pretty good now. And they weren’t that great to begin with.
- The Paradox of Passion: Sparks, Flames and Fuel
- IS IT OOB YET?!?: Your Guide To Improv’s Biggest Week of the Year
- Holy %$#~! : Swearing, Stabbing and Going Blue
- Don’t Believe Everything You Think: How Your Brain Lies to You
- What I Really Think About You: How to Give and Receive Feedback