Vanessa Anton is an improviser based in San Diego, Calif. In her show Heart to Heart with Vanessa, she invites audience members to join her in a heartfelt conversation and then perform some improv scenes based on that conversation. Anton will perform Heart to Heart with Vanessa at the start of the 9:15 p.m. EST show block on Saturday, December 12 at the 2020 Very Normal Festival. In this spotlight interview, Anton discusses the genesis of her show, the ways in which online performance can work to facilitate authenticity and vulnerability in improv, and what she likes about living in San Diego.
We’re so happy to have you with us this year, Vanessa! Can you tell us a bit about your show and how you came up with the idea?
Thank you for having me! My show is Heart to Heart with Vanessa and I submitted solo. I hoped that someone would join me and have a conversation about something we’re currently feeling/ experiencing, and then do a little improv! Pretty simple, I suppose! I got lucky that not one, but TWO people were interested. Thanks to your zoom meetups, I found Casey Newman and Susan Kleinman. And we’ll do the set together!
We all know that it can be really hard for comedians to just sit down and talk to each other sincerely, without the conversation devolving into an escalating sequence of bits. What successful strategies have you found for getting people to open up and be vulnerable?
I have found that sharing my own fears, etc. has helped in letting others be more open. I’m also not afraid to embarrass myself or do very dorky things to make others feel more at ease. Also, I like to just call out moments that don’t feel genuine, and encourage others to approach the moment with more honesty and authenticity. If you feel like crap or like an imposter or you have no idea what to say, just use that. Use that feeling, or fear in the character you’re playing instead of pushing so hard to find the “correct” thing to say.
You’ve long been a champion of vulnerability and authenticity in improv. What appeals to you about this style of play? And do you think there are ways in which online performance facilitates vulnerability and authenticity moreso than live performance?
When I started teaching I noticed how people would second guess themselves and try hard to be something they weren’t. So I began focusing on coming from an honest place. Using that realness in characters, instead of trying hard to be “funny” or like a comedian they admire. The interesting thing about being online is that you are there facing each other in these boxes. There isn’t a whole stage space or a physical audience to distract us. We’re present in a different way when we do virtual improv and I think it is even more powerful to play authentically in this space.
You’re the director of inclusion and vulnerability for Cornerstone Improv in San Diego. What does that role entail, and how does it fit within Cornerstone’s broader mission?
Cornerstone has been on a hiatus this year, but when we’re in business the heart of our org is the Inclusion Scholarship. Each workshop has an inclusion spot, some have two. The lovely part is how involved the community got in this with donated inclusion spots. It was really awesome to see folks thrive in a space they might not have been able to be in financially. I look forward to getting back to this again someday.
You’re based in San Diego! What do you like about living there, other than the weather?
I’ve come to realize how important good weather is! Especially when you’re at home most of the year due to lockdowns. I also love that San Diego is a big city with a smaller feel. And how you the beach, city, desert and mountains are all within reach. I’ve often said I want to move elsewhere, but it’s been 24 years, and I’m still here. I must like it!
Finally — we are contractually obligated to ask this question — on an ascending scale of 1 to 10, how normal would you say your show is, and why?
Hmm, I think it’s actually pretty normal. Maybe a 7? But if you consider that I’ll be playing with two people that I just met a few weeks ago in zoom boxes that you all set up for the Very Normal Fest on the internet, maybe it isn’t as normal after all? But 7 is my final answer. For now