But, Out

A woman in my class this week told me that since our first class, where we learned what it means to “yes and,” she noticed the amount of times over the week that she had the tendency to write “but” in her text messages. She attempted to take the advice learned in class in order to make her text communications more positive.

In improv, “but” is basically the same as “no.” It’s telling your partner you’ve heard what they said (maybe); you don’t like their idea, you think you have a better idea, or more likely, their idea scares you and you’re worried about how to pull it off,  so you’re going to try to squeeze in your safer idea in the scene instead.

For example:

“Alright Mom! It’s time to go to the moon!” 

“Ok honey, but the moon’s too far away, so why don’t we just go to the grocery store instead?”

It might as well have been:

“Alright Mom! It’s time to go to the moon!”

“No. We’re going to the grocery store.”

It’s sometimes remarkable that people think they’re listening and responding positively, when they’re really steering the scene (or the conversation, or the making of plans, in a non-improv setting) to discount their partner’s ideas or wishes.

Maybe we could all benefit from my student’s exercise. For one week, notice how often you text “but”, use “but” in an email or say “but.” Reflect on it. Is that “but” necessary? Or are you using “but” to turn down someone’s idea or invitation because you think you have a better idea or because you’re afraid to know where theirs might take you.

All this to be taken as a reminder that it doesn’t take a hard no to refuse someone’s offers and ideas, onstage or off.


If this blog post has opened up some bubble in your brain and you want to read more about “but,” in a context other than improv, check out this Fast Company article:

The One Word That’s Undermining Everything Else You Say

From the article:

“If you never used ‘but’ again, you’d be just fine,” she says. “It’s a conjunction used to marry two completely separate ideas. Why do that?” – Karin Hurt

(PS. they totally mention improv in the article)


My Lighthouse

I think People & Chairs turned me onto Ben Noble’s blog, which lead me to his newsletter; a weekly Monday morning email filled with inspiring and helpful tidbits pertaining to improv and creativity in general. The perfect email to receive amongst the rest of the Monday madness of a 9-5 office job.

It seems appropriate then that I should read Ben’s post about his Lighthouse word last year around the same time I began bullet journalling because the two seem to be an intertwining system of motivation and creativity.

Per Ben, a lighthouse word is a single word that will serve as your guiding light for the year ahead. I figured I’d give it a shot. Last year, I chose the word “wake,” because I felt like I may be going through the motions too much, rather than being present, and awake for everything I was doing. I also felt like I was sleeping in too much on weekends and taking too many naps, and that I might be missing out on stuff as a result of that. Since then, I’ve reminded myself that that’s ridiculous because sleeping and napping are both awesome, especially when you already have a lifestyle that keeps you up late at night.

The combination of wanting to be awake, and the mentality of enthusiastic yes anding learned in improv that’s seeped into my everyday existence really helped make 2017 a truly stand-out year. So when it came time to pick my lighthouse word for 2018, I was a bit worried. What could I pick that would be as impactful as “Wake the eff up, Brie?”

I shortlisted a few words and continued setting up my bujo for the year ahead. I thought about things I lacked, areas in my life I’d like to improve. One thing kept coming back to me. Something that frustrates me beyond belief;  when I’m not ready for something that I’ve known about for a while. I pride myself on time management skills, but my husband reminds me that these could still use a bit of brushing up. This is difficult when you have a million separate projects on the go, and they all require a significant amount of brainpower to make happen on a regular basis; like producing multiple comedy shows, acts and classes.

I think my perception of time is off, because there are always things I forget to take into consideration before I have to go out and do, anything! I assume I’ll just leave the house and be ready to go, but no; there are other things that need to happen before I step out the door. Inevitably, I’ll leave much later than originally intended because I forgot that leaving the house requires a fair amount of planning and preparation, and that these things take time.

This seems obvious, but it’s a huge set back for me. I try to plan things out to the T, time-wise so as soon as something like “shit, I forgot I have to put gas in the car” comes up, it throws me off my timeline and puts me behind, which raises my anxiety and brings out all sorts of negativity in me. And that’s just one little thing. There are many of these little things that add up and make me late ALL THE TIME. Since FOREVER! Since I was a kid! I wait to the last minute because I’m focused on other things that I’m not giving myself the amount of time to THINK about what I NEED to do to accomplish what I WANT.

So. I’ve taken some steps and I’ve thought up some strategies because this year, now that I’ve trained myself to be awake, I’ve decided that’s not enough. I also want to be properly PREPAREd.


PS. It’s super hard for me not to sing that Lion King song almost every time I see this page in my bujo, and I’m trying to be OK with that.

What do you think? Do you have a lighthouse word for 2018? Let me know in the comments below!

2017 Briear in Review

My lighthouse word for 2017 was wake. The idea was that I wanted to stop feeling like life was passing me by; like I was sleeping or dazing through things for which I should really feel present. Except for this past week where I literally slept through Christmas because I was recovering from a bad bout of bronchitis, I think I did my lighthouse word justice.

This year was crazy. At times it felt like absolutely nothing was happening, and other times, so much was going on my head was spinning. A lot of change, a lot of taking a few steps back in order to move forward. But nevertheless, here she is; the list of the things I consider to be accomplishments in 2017:

  • I joined the faculty at The Second City Training Centre in Toronto and began teaching the Improv program.
  • I maintained my first ever bullet journal in an effort to help keep me on track.
  • I performed stand-up comedy at Yuk Yuk’s downtown Toronto.
  • I recorded 13 new episodes of The Constant Struggle podcast with my brother Nick. We branched out a bit and started talking to visual artists as well as performing artists.
  • I continued to produce and host Guess Who’s Coming to Improv? for another successful year, a show that brings improvisers together outside the classroom and allows us to play with some of our improv heroes.
  • I went on an audition for a commercial sans representation.
  • I was asked to host improv shows by other troupes and performers.
  • I was asked to be featured on not one, but two podcasts (that weren’t my own.)
  • I continued to produce and perform my show What If? Improvising Your Alternate Universe, which traveled beyond Toronto this year to places like: New York City, Ottawa, Thorold, Niagara Falls & St. Catharines.
  • I continued to produced and perform in the super fun POPAGANDA at The Second City’s John Candy Box Theatre with my fantastic host Antonis Varkaris.
  • I wrote a column that was published in the Ottawa Citizen about disability and public transit.
  • I filmed and starred in a funny sketch comedy video with my sketch partner from The Utilidors, Dave Lahti and our newfound production crew Steve Mavilla and Matt Lazzarini.
  • My sketch troupe The Utilidors performed two awesome sets in the Toronto Sketch Comedy Festival.
  • The Utilidors got themselves a shiny new website.
  • I produced and performed in a series of improv shows in the Niagara Region and founded Niagara Improv with my longtime best buddy Dina Senior. (We even made the front cover because of it!)


  • I performed in my first ever Second City BizCo production, which took me to Vancouver, BC. First time I’d ever been there too!
  • I traveled to England and France.
  • I performed improv in London, England in a super fun jam at The Nursery Theatre.
  • I returned to Vimy Ridge after 9 years to attend and volunteer at the centennial celebration of the victory at Vimy. I was reunited with friends Scott and Sydnie, who were the most wonderful companions with whom to share the experience. (While I was there I got to meet Paul Gross and chat with Peter Mansbridge. Not to mention got a few sightings of PM JT and HRHs the Princes Charles, William and Harry!)


  • I got to eat at my favourite restaurant in the world, the Carpe Diem in the city of Arras, where I lived for several months back in 2007-2008.
  • I was properly measured for a bra for the first time in my life in London.
  • I saw Daniel Radcliffe perform in a play in the West End.
  • I performed in the first ever 420 Comedy Festival in Toronto
  • I co-organized a Women’s Mental Health workshop using comedy and mindfulness to benefit women in the comedy community, and women-identifying people in general with my fierce and compassionate friends Alicia, Candace and Janet.
  • I continued to perform with my improv Chakra Khan, which had attempted to be dismantled by two different organizations. And still, we prevailed and now run a monthly variety show at Comedy Bar.
  • At work, I produced a fundraiser show and helped raise over $500 for the Heart & Stroke Foundation.
  • I produced and performed in the improv portion of Toronto’s SheDot Festival. And my face was on the poster!
  • I played softball for another season with Team Jokebox in Toronto Comedy Softball League
  • I submitted a pitch to Just for Laughs with my writing buddy Chris Hedrick.
  • My husband and I were approved for a mortgage.
  • I performed in the Del Close Marathon in New York City for the first time ever; and due to unforeseen travel circumstances, had to drive there with my buddies Coko, Daphney and Candace. This turned out to be the most wonderful adventure.


  • I got a car. My little red Ford Briesta!
  • I went on sabbatical from administrative job to pursue comedy exclusively for a year.
  • I was lucky enough to see Tom Petty perform live in Ottawa before he passed away.
  • I was selected to perform with a super fun new improv troupe Leopard Cohen as part of the newly formed improv collective; The Assembly.
  • I Won my first ever Beerprov and finally got to drink out of the mug of champions. (Side note, still don’t like beer all that much.)
  • I bought a house and moved in back to the Niagara Region and began my new role as a commuting comedian.
  • I took a workshop with impro guru Keith Johnstone.
  • I performed in a fun historical comedy play for the Bloorcourt Festival.
  • I completed a Voice Over workshop & created my voice demo reel.
  • I travelled to Chicago, Il to attend the first ever Yes and Mental Health conference with my friends Alicia and Candace. We enjoyed pizza and live comedy while we were there.

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  • I applied for and  received my first ever grant to create a comedy pilot, which is currently in production.
  • I celebrated 1 year of marriage to my love, Dan.
  • I found out I’m going to be an aunt; my sister’s expecting!
  • I performed in the Big City Improv Festival again this year.
  • I travelled to Upstate New York with my parents to take in some colourful sights.

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  • I started coaching an improv troupe in Niagara.
  • I organized a surprise party for my Mom’s birthday and caught her completely off guard.
  • I caught bronchitis. And though that seems like kindof a crappy way to end the year, it forced me to rest up, it allowed me to catch up on all kinds of awesome TV shows and movies I’d missed and it really refreshed me and got me ready for what’s to come in 2018.

Thanks to everyone who helped me stay awake this year and embrace the good.

Happy New Year!

Just Be Quiet

“If you continually criticize or silence your children, especially your girls, eventually it might take.”


I teach improv.

Sometimes I teach improv to kids.

Sometimes kids are more honest and revealing than their adult counterparts.

I was teaching improv to kids as a way of helping them be more comfortable with presentations at school. At the beginning of class, I asked the students if any of them identified as having stage fright.

Some did. Not surprising. We moved on.

Later in the workshop, we were playing a game called Make a Story. In this game, a group of improvisers work together to tell a story.  The instructor points to the different improvisers, who take turns providing the next chunk of the story. The idea is for the group to listen to each others’ offers, work together as a team and build a cohesive story.

This group was composed of the improvisers who’d waited a while to volunteer to go up. The more outgoing individuals opted to go first, while the more reserved ones wait to get an idea of how the game is played before feeling confident the game won’t bring upon them unbearable discomfort or embarrassment. This is high school, after all.

The more reserved bunch went up and told a wonderful story. Every bit of it made sense logically, and it rivalled any of the other stories I’ve heard being performed by a group of people playing this game for the first time.

When I asked the group how they felt about their story, one girl confessed that she found it very difficult. I asked her why she felt that way.

She said: “Remember earlier, when you asked if we have stage fright? I’m one of those people who hates making presentations.”

I said to her: “But you did great! You seemed so confident. I couldn’t tell at all that you were nervous. Why don’t you like talking in front of people?”

She replied: “because every time I mis-speak at home, my mom yells at me.”

Look, I don’t pretend to know anything about parenting. But something tells me that if you keep telling your kid to just shut up, eventually they’re probably going to get the message. And that might cost them; grades, jobs, promotions. Who knows?

I quickly reinforced to her that her contribution to the story was helpful, wonderful and so. incredibly. valid. But that moment made me feel very sad.

I am a big loud-mouth. I speak loud on stage and off. Growing up in my house, my instead of going downstairs to ask my parents a question, I would typically shout my request down to them, and for the most part, they’d return the conversation in kind. My voice is a valuable tool, and it has always been encouraged as such.

Most people I meet, after knowing them for a month or two will typically express something the likes of: “I can’t believe I used to think you were shy (/quiet.)” (What can I say, it takes me a little while before revealing my true self to people, especially in like, an office setting or an intimate piano lesson.)

You know what? I’m probably reading too much into this, and creating drama where there is none. This girl’s relationship with her mother is probably wonderful, and totally Gilmore Girls and everything is sunshine and unicorns. But I can’t help thinking, if you continually criticize or silence your children, especially your girls, eventually it might take.

They might lose their voice.

They might be profoundly uncomfortable in an improv class. They might never feel confident in a business meeting. They might not speak up in a moment of crisis.

And then what?

More silence.

The Accountant

On the first day of a new Level A term, I like to ask the students to tell me one cool thing about themselves, and to let me know why they decided to sign up for an improv class, because for a lot of people, a lot of thought has gone into the why. Some people have been waiting years to do it and have finally built up the confidence to sign up.

ANYWAY…I got an outstanding answer to both these questions today and it went a little something like this:

One cool thing about yourself? 

Student: “I’m an accountant.”

Why did you sign up for improv? 

“I want to be less like an accountant.”


I don’t encourage students to be funny, or clever when answering these questions. I’m just looking for something truthful, and in this very truthful answer, we all laughed our butts off.

Collaborative > Competitive

When I teach the introductory level of improv, I tell people that improv is better when it’s collaborative, not competitive.

This continues to ring true for me as I persist in my own improv journey. Every time I embark on a project that’s competitive in nature, I end up getting my heart broken. Not always by the competition, but certainly by the lack of collaboration.

Improv, Road Trips and Mental Health

A few people have been asking me about a conference I attended last weekend in Chicago. It was the inaugural “Yes And Mental Health” conference and it was the first of its kind. Though it seems specialists have been using improv as a tool in helping folks with mental health issues for some time now, this was the first conference that melded these worlds together. The conference itself seemed predominantly for psychologists and people working in mental health, however there were tremendous benefits to attending for people like me, who are just improv instructors. (Not just an improv instructor, but like, there aren’t any credentials after my signature, is all I’m saying. Although I suppose I could put my Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science up there, but I’m neither pretentious nor desperate, so let’s get on with it.)

Back in April, I co-organized an event for the benefit of women in the comedy community in Toronto with my buds Alicia Douglas and Candace Meeks. The idea was that if other women in the comedy had gone through some of the garbage that we had gone through, it might be a good thing to have somewhere to talk about it, and to use some other skills like mindfulness and even improv itself to help us in dealing with said garbage.

Fast forward to last weekend, where in an effort to gain more knowledge and information about using mental health and wellness techniques for our own future workshops, we ended up in Chicago and were privy to exceptionally interesting lectures and fantastic performances all geared towards combining improv, mental health and wellbeing.

“The root of improvisation is in social change.” Rachael Mason

The weekend kicked off with a panel with notable improvisers such as Rachael Mason and Jimmy Carrane as well as some of the therapists who would be running the workshops over the weekend. Unfortunately, we missed the majority of this discussion due to it taking a long-ass time to get from Toronto to Chicago, but what I did get from this is that improv itself was used as a tool to help actors get in touch with the truth of their characters; while places using improv for entertainment like The Second City began also with a view of social change, using satire as subversion.

The next day, Mason talked about ways to correct racist and prejudiced behaviour as improv teachers and discussed the notion of creating “brave spaces” where every idea has the right to be explored. And though this means difficult subjects may come to light in class, it is there where improv teachers need to be as brave and judgement-less as their students in order for them to do the same. 

Improv has the power to provide very similar releases to what people sometimes experience through therapy; the main difference is that improv cannot provide the after-care. And that’s where a lot of people were talking about bridging the two fields and taking that conversation much more seriously going forward.  

We talked about the healing power of improv in a lecture by MSW Assael Romanelli. This was a bit more complicated to summarize but his work has proven that what happens when people play improv can generate growth in individuals; socially and personally. Anyone who’s done an improv program can probably say like “yeah, no shit!” to that, but he had some really cool actual brain- science to back it up. 

We learned about Therapeutic Improv from Azizi Marshall, a Drama Therapist. She taught us some games that can help encourage playfulness, expressiveness, creativity and interpersonal trust in individuals. (followed up, of course, with this notion that anything beyond these games would necessitate the leadership of a trained therapist or social worker.)

We watched an improv troupe comprised entirely of therapists, another entirely of people aged 50+ and then, watched a musical troupe have their set dissected by therapists in the form of a podcast. This opened up my view of who improv can belong to; because I often see it as a pursuit by mostly 20-30 year old actor/comedians, but these groups broke down those barriers (and analyzed the shit outta them!)

We learned the improv games that work very well when teaching improv people with Autism Spectrum Disorder and learned of the incredible strides in communicating some individuals can make in the playful and judgement-free zone of an improv class.

We took a musical impov workshop with Stephanie McCullough, which was fun and incredibly therapeutic. This was pretty groundbreaking for me because I typically see musical improv as a series of people either trying to outshine each other with the quality of their voice or their ability to rhyme. This was neither; it was musical and personal and political and I loved all of it.

Some of the workshops were running simultaneously, so sadly we weren’t able to take in every single one we would have liked. (I’m bummed I missed out on Margot Escott’s Play for Play’s Sake, but I’m hoping to find out about it on her podcast.

The whole weekend was an incredible re-set; remembering that improv is so much more than competition to. Remembering how it has helped me through some pretty crappy experiences of my own. Learning how I can apply certain learnings and techniques to make me a better improv teacher. Meeting new people who also see improv as being as powerful as I do. Sharing the experience with two of my best buddies who I also happen to admire the crap out of given their knowledge and experience with this craft.  Oh, and also, deep dish pizza.

I’m happy to talk to his in more detail with people individually, but right now, I’m inspired. We need a venue for our next workshop, and I can’t wait to get back in the classroom with my Level As.

Thanks so much to the organizers and everyone responsible for putting on the inaugural Yes And Mental Health Conference on a wonderful conference & all the best keeping this momentum going!