How to succeed in theatre (by really trying)

On breaking into the theatre business with Presents: the Improv founder, Michelle Hart

The most difficult part of any career path isn’t deciding exactly what it is you want to do, it’s having the guts to follow through with it. Just ask Michelle Hart, who graduated from Mt. A in 2014 and has been in the chaotic business of improv since she left Sackville. She has just finished a trans-Canadian alumni tour with the Canadian Improv Games where she was putting on shows and running workshops for current and past players. Now, having finished her hiatus, Hart is settling back into the Toronto comedy scene with her all-female improv group, the Lebron Janes.

Hart credits Mt. A with teaching her how to “prioritize such a big workload [between classes] and then doing all [her] side improv” even before Presents was structured formally at the school. Hart was  heavily involved in the early stages of Presents. In her first year, she watched it evolve into FLiNT under the leadership of Justin Collette. Hart attributes the growth of the improv and drama scene in town to Collette, thanks to workshops he ran as part of FLiNT and the numerous improv alum he brought into Sackville.

After Collette had left the school, she and her best friend Becky Lockert “slowly took over the improv, [and] turned [it] back into Presents: the Improv … [We] were so busy that we couldn’t continue running the classes the same way he could,” she said, referring to the change in direction of the improv troupe.

Between her involvement in the school’s improv scene and her time on the orientation committee, Hart became a familiar face on campus. She was also a go-to host for events on campus, including the Ascars and the holiday banquet. She also ran the New Brunswick and PEI improv team, explaining that her improv involvement was more in the community rather than just at the school.

“Being in Sackville [allowed] me to run a bunch of these different things,” Hart said fondly.

Now, Hart is booking regular performances with the Lebron Janes, but she’s worked hard to get to where she is today. She arrived in Toronto fresh off the convocation stage and ready to take on the professional comedy scene. Her routine was to appear nightly at various comedy clubs, simply introducing herself as a new face to booking agents and managers.  Eventually, she was booking three to five shows a week. She then began growing her own improv troupe.

“[I realized] that I can’t go to a city and not know anyone and expect to be in shows. You kind of have to make your own team,” Hart said on the origins of the Lebron Janes.

From there, the Lebron Janes began to apply to many shows around the city. Yelling and dressing outrageously clearly captured the public’s attention and, to some extent, admiration. Known for the habit of going “buck-wild” during performances, the Lebron Janes began to book more and more frequently as they quickly became a Toronto hit.

For a while, Hart became so busy onstage that she began to doubt herself.

“I ended up doing so many shows that I was like, ‘Did I like that show? … Is this fulfilling?’ ” Hart said, explaining her decision to take a step back from comedy for a bit. She quickly came to the realization that she was in fact in the right place, and returned to improv with renewed conviction.

When breaking into the theatre business, Hart emphasized the value of persistence most of all.

“If you audition for a play and you didn’t get in, it’s not the end of the world. You should make your own shit – make your own stuff and produce it,” she said. “It’s a lot riskier and it’s so much more rewarding.”

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