Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Week Two

Monday the rains were a fallin like CRAZY in Bluffton, GA so we got the day off from farm work. Although I enjoy working on the farm, the 7 AM text message bearing this news made me as gleeful as a schoolgirl on a snow day. (And speaking of school cancellations, because there are so many dirt roads in rural Georgia, kids got Monday AND Tuesday off from school because of the poor driving conditions. Glad the childhood joy continues on from geographic area to geographic area!! No child should be deprived of these happy, happy days.)
I slept in, listened to the rain fall on the tin roof, (its actually not a tin roof, but it sounded nice, right? Many of the roofs here are in fact metal and Annie speculates it's because it's not as cold here and thus roofting doesn't need as much insulation. Anyone know?) we went grocery shopping, read and read and read lots and we made BORSCHT.

Borscht is a Russian beet and cabbage soup--a staple of Russian cuisine that I grew up on. To the chagrin of my parents I didn't take the initiative to learn how to make it until uh...yesterday, because grandma is a gourmet cook specializing in Russian and Ukrainian cuisine--why must I spoil a good thing? But I called grandma for the recipe because I wanted Annie and my new friends to experience some Slavic cuisine. (Grandmas love when you ask them about recipes.)

The Evidence. With a dollop of yogurt.

I was really proud of myself after successfully making the soup with Annie K's assistance! I sent my whole family a picture text as proof, and I think I may finally be considered a respectable part of the family :)

Anyhow, today was a full day at the farm. The morning started cloudy and humid, and warm. Annie and I pruned Muscatine grape branches in the orchard, planted blueberries, weeded, fixed row cover on beds of vegetables that had blown off in the windy rain, and potted some soil in the greenhouse before lunch.

Anyhow, today was a full day at the farm. The morning started cloudy and humid, and warm.  Annie and I pruned muscadine grape branches in the orchard, planted blueberries, weeded, fixed row cover on beds of vegetables that had blown off in the windy rain, and potted some soil in the greenhouse before lunch.

Annie planting blueberries today. What a babe.

Jesus rinsing with warm
water before they go into the machine
(He got the
day off from school!)
I also helped with weekly egg duty--and got a picture of all the eggs before they go through the egg washer machine contraption thingy...that might not be the proper term :D Aren't they beautiful? 650 hens, 4 - 5,000 eggs per week.
After lunch I noticed a gorgeous Southern Magnolia tree in the forest behind all the vegetables. It looks distinct among all of the other trees because of it's waxy leaves that look like they belong in a warmer climate. Annie knew the name of it.  I am constantly amazed at how many plants she can identify--I didn't know she was a junior botanist :)

The rest of the day continued with mostly greenhouse tasks. I made my first potting soil mix using the recipe that is generally used.  I wouldn't have thought of handling that last week. Everything was so foreign and strange then!

I came home and ate more borscht. Annie had this great idea of poaching an egg in the borscht while reheating on the stove. This is a very cool innovation--I'm talking it to the family table.

More soon.

I love eggs and borscht and rain,


While the borscht is cooking we're drinking pickled
beet juice cocktails, inspired by farm produce baby.

Annie keeps her hair short for practical pursposes
while she's walking. She's also a free bird.
Tatoo is temporarry, don't worry mom :)
PS: I went for a run on Sunday. Everything outside beamed. I was dumbfounded.  Did I just walk into one of those picturesque Windows backgrounds?
Nope. Just Georgia for ya.  Here's some shots from roads and areas close to the house. Which one's your favorite?
Pecan Trees
Pines and Clay
Layer CAKE
The Pines

PPS: What my shoes look like after rain + farm:




Sunday, February 24, 2013

Ohh Goody! The Fave Pictures Post

So homey
Farm at sunset
Front yard at sunset--oaks and pecan trees
Magnolias -- Susan B :)
Dirt Road at Dusk
Farming Profile: Photo cred Annie K
Annie K -- Cheer on a rainy day!
This Is It.
Be Quiet

Farming, Days 5 & 6: RAINNNNN

The past two days have been WET in Bluffton, Georgia. Evidently this is the rainy season. It rained earlier this week when Annie and I worked in the green house, but on Friday we connected drip tape (irrigation system) to 21 rows of potatoes, and then we put some row cover  over beets and carrots--me sporting a garbage bag rain coat. (High farm fashion :)  Improvisation is a huge part of farm work and we're better for it! I only regret not bringing rain boots or a rain coat...but so it is!

Me setting up irrigation for potato rows with drip tape

After doing that and feeling like champs, we had lunch and then got a tour of the brooder house, which is where the baby chicks and bunnies are raised. Travis, the young man who manages the brooder house facilitated the tour. They have two thousand chicks in there at once! I held a day old bunny and a chick--they were both reallly adorable.
This guy becomes...

This guy!
Dawwwww!!!! (click to enlarge)

We then went home early because we'd finished all of our tasks and spent the afternoon reading and drinking cocoa and eating stove popped popcorn (Awesome!) Then Tim and Casey, the guests we were expecting arrived--they drove all the way from Connecticut to meet the farm crew and see White Oak Pastures because they'll be joining as farm apprenctices in the next few weeks.  We had an amazing meal with them and some great conversation before heading to bed.  It began to pour again in the evening and we saw some amazing lighting with the lights off and candles on.

We had to rise fairly early on Saturday because we were going to do a few things on the farm with Tim and Casey.  Annie and I potted kale in the green house while the guests did a special project in between getting a tour of the farm, the chicken plant and the beef plant.  Annie and I accompanied them as well and it was interesting to see inside the abattoir aka slaughterhouse--especially one that raises all natural chickens and isn't HUGE and completely mechanized.  I learned that an animal goes through as many as fifteen hands and is USDA inspected before being packaged and shipped out at White Oaks.

Remember how on the weekends, Pasture to Plate becomes fine dining for dinner and lunch? It's called Seasons, and the chef, Jim Snyder and his wife Cindy kindly treated us to an amazing meal--made of fresh farm ingredients. We had delicious chicken sachelle (similar to sausage) made with pistachios and herbs, pickled green tomato, peanut hummus, onion galette (pastry dough with fried, sweet tasting onions)--it was such a beautifully presented and delicious meal. And to top that off, a peice of Hummingbird Heart cake--three teirs of pinapple, banana, and pecans with cream cheese frosting. So sweet and wonderful. Thanks so much Jim and Cindy!!
-- Five Stars --

Tim, Casey & I (Annie behind camera)

After The Amazing Lunch, we took our guests to the pastures accross the street to see the chicks growing to be laying hens and the grazing cows and sheep--and we got extremely close!

We then took a special trip to the Kolomoki Mounds, a national park in neighboring Blakely, GA that is "the oldest and largest Woodland Indian site in the southeastern United States, occupied by American Indians from 350 to 750 a.d."--the largest mound is 57 feet tall and was the temple mound.  There are a handful of other mounds throughout the park thought to be for ceremonial and burial purposes.  There's much archeological speculation as to how the mounds were built. We climbed up a huge concrete staircase built into the outside of the largest mound and got to enjoy the view.

Temple mound at Kolomoki
I also discovered Laughing Yoga from Casey and it is so so so cool. Next place I live I'm looking for a club--the health benefits are almost magical.

So, week one has wrapped. It's been faster than I thought. One more week on the farm and then the walking begins. It's been a gift to spend quality time with Annie and see her working.  It's neat to see friends in their different environments and Annie is an enthusiastic and passionate part of the farm.  I am surprised she's been here for about three weeks--the rapport she has with the staff, and the knowledge of the farm is remarkable. I have a tourguide at my side!  The people here are also great. The work is meaningful. I think that's why Annie enjoys it so much. It's a great lifestyle and I'm enjoying being able to experience it firsthand.

With farming affection,



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Farmin On: Day Four

Today was rodent-trap-weeding-row-cover day. Gil, Lori, Annie and I also dug a ditch near the hoop house, which is one of the green houses containing lettuce.  The ditch was a semi-circle and dug for irrigation purposes when the rains come! (Farmers gotta be prepared.) Inside the semi-circle Gil and Lori planted herbs, one being sorrel, my new favorite herb. (Though it does look like it belongs in the lettuce family). Sorrel tastes tangy and awesome. I don't think I've ever had it before but I'm looking forward to incorporating it into future dishes.
Diggin and planting

It was ridiculously nice out today too--it reached seventy degrees (THIS is what I came here for!!)

I am tired today. Farm + blogging keeps me up late because I want to capture every detail to share with YOU. If that ain't love...

Anyways, a bunch of house mates have gone to an agricultural conference in Albany (They say it Al-bany here, not smooth like in New England. I like the the Southern flavor.) and we're expecting visitors this weekend that may work on the farm. The people I work and live with are great hosts.

Where's the chard??????
I'm dropping a few pics and hitting the hay today, g'night and enjoy, y'all!

Size comparison. Organic carrots taste sooo.good.

Swiss Charrrrd!!!!!!!!

ginger snaps/almond butter/marshmallow/
chocolate/coconut/WOW-->try it!!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Day Three: Wait, this is only Day Three??

Annie said the days all start melding together and I think that's true. I feel like I've been here for...longer than last Saturday, Feb 16!

This morning was freezing. I worked in the greenhouse transplanting trays and trays of bokchoi with Annie until lunch. We transplanted because they needed more room to grow, so we used bigger pots.

Each day we eat lunch at White Oaks' restaurant called Pasture to Plate, and volunteers eat in exchange for labor which is a cool perk.  The restaurant is a fairly new establishment that comes in pretty handy for employees, since the nearest restauarant is fifteen miles away.  The meals consist of the farm's vegetables and livestock which is beautiful.  Structurally, it's a large, open air pavilion with picnic tables underneath.  On weekends it becomes a fancy restaurant.  I've heard fabulous things about it.

Today was also an important day because Annie and I got an enthusiastically narrated and thorough tour of all of White Oak Pastures by Tripp, the organic farm manager. This farm is so much larger than I thought--the fields (of gold) go on forever. We saw the cows and sheep grazing as well as a few chickens. And as I promised the sweet girls I babysit, the pictures of the animals are here, enjoy!!

How surreal is this?? Amazing picture. Photo cred: Tripp

Blehhhh!! Moooooooo!

Annie and I also varnished a wooden display rack that's going to show off the farm's organic produce in the White Oaks store. We also did a lil weeding and the day was dunn. Farmers need shut eye, so I am going to get some of that. And maybe count sheep hahahhahaha. Had to.
With warmth, affection, and grazing animals,


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Day Two on Da Farm (Alive and Well)

I'd reckon I'm even thriving on the farm. (A little sore, but good-to-exert-and-move-body-sore) Because where good people are, even hard work isn't bad and you have a good time in the open air. PLUS being everywhere with ANNIE KEITHLINE is really really really great. I've been deprived and now I'm overdosing, (No bad symptoms though, just happier Svet.) I even get to sleep with her and we talk like little girls at a sleepover!

This morning the sky wept drizzly tears. With no rain boots I was a bit worried, but the weather was so nice and balmy (mid fifties in the morning, but the humidity made it feel warmer) that I abandoned myself to wet feet in exchange for overall warmth. Good deal.

Because of the rain our work consisted mainly of greenhouse tasks and stuff under the other roofs--there's a work station type area with tables and a vegetable wash across from all the rows and Annie and I created Harris (family that owns and operates White Oak Pastures) logo stencils to spray paint on all the CSA (community supported agriculture) boxes that would go out to memebers of the CSA hopefully beginning March 14.  Our projecto was called off because the logo on the plastic crates was too scratchable, so to the greenhouse I went.

Green house with the babyy plants

But not before learning about the eggs. "Doing eggs" as they say on the farm, is a weekly affair. White Oaks has over 600 laying hens, (!!!)  Egg duty consists in collecting all of the eggs, washing them a few times, sorting them, and packaging them to go to Whole Foods, a restaurant in town called The Greasy Spoon (hehehehhe I like this name), and to be sold to employess and at the White Oaks grocery store (which is new--name to come). This was an amazing experience. I felt like I was participating in a PBS documentary on egg production. Frankie told me all about the porous egg shell and looking for cracks and seeing the bubble on the bototn of the egg which is one of the indicators of it being good.

Frankie at the beginning of the egg assembly
line, inspecting for cracks and putting them
through the wash.
Cindy sorting eggs by weight
and packaging
Lori packaging like a boss
After lunch, which came quick today, (Annie says this is because we were working on less tasks today, and theorized that task variance causes time to pass slower. I think it depends on the task. Whether you are in the FLOW. I think we were flowin with those stencils though.) we ate at the farm restaurant/cafeteria called Pasture to Plate (clever name, right?! More on this restaurant soon, cool story behind it.) Then I planted Shanghai Green Baby bokchoi and Nancy lettuce seeds in the greenhouse with Lori, Annie, and Gil. I love the greenhouse it's ridiculously warm in there. Tempting nap spot. Working on getting a hammock.

Annie and Frankie yesterday, next to the potato rows
We were let out one hour early today because we stayed after yesterday for potato planting. So Annie and I sampled wine, drank tea, and read at the table with beautiful afternoon sun illuminating the kitchen table and the azalias set upon it. Gah beautiful. I'm a corn ball, but it was a perfect moment setting there reading with Annie K. Feeding the intellect and the social self in silence. Woahhh.

We went for a walk down the (dirt) road before dinner (barefoot!) with Onyx the dog who I keep calling a he though she's a she. She has so much ENERGY. The Georgia landscape here is startlingly gorgeous.  Love to ya from the land of pecans and peaches.


Look at the color

Day One on the Farm

Today was the long awaited day on which I became a more intimate aquaintance of Mother Earth. (She's amazing!) The farm work began.

One of the green houses
Days for the farm crew begin at 8 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. although sometimes they run a little longer, like today--because we were planting  potatoes. I learned that there are tons of varieties! Fingerlings (Banana Fingerlings and French Fingerlings), Red Pontiac, All Blue, Mountain Rose...aren't these names fabulous? They remind me of my distant dream of creating the names of crayon colors, or maybe wall paint--I'd be thrilled with anything of that sort--creativity begs to be expressed! And the Pontiacs reminded me of the black Pontiac my parents had when I was a wee little babe and made me smile.

I also heard cows today in the distance--they graze a ways away from the rows we were working on today but they reminded me of how my dad used to tell me scary stories about THE COWS in Russia in order to get me to quiet down in rowdy states. A more personal form of the boogie man, Russian village style I guess...

Anyhow, the work was good, it was lovely to be out in the fresh air all day. Delicious vitamin D everywhere! I had to cut my nails today after farming because you hands get dirty and the shorter ya nails, the betta. Annie is extrordinarily hardcore and wears no work gloves but I can't handle that! Gloves and lotion for these cracked hands! And chapstick is a must. P.S. I got a small sunburn today, I love it! She says I will defintely have a different skin tone by month's end. Maybe I should do a before and after shot--that would be funny.

With regards to the farm labor specifically, today we prepped rows for planting broccoli and cauliflower wich entailed clearing out the beds of old produce that had bolted, argicultural term--or slang? for the plant going to seed, which makes it bitter and unsellable at market. So they all had to be uprooted, and then the soil had to be raked. After finishing that it was only 9:30 AM, what!?!?!?!? Time passes differently on the farm.

I then helped Lori clean up the swiss chard remains after a batch of it was picked and bundled in the greenhouse...and I was absolutely taken by how amazingly beautiful it looks in its stalks, all green and red!! The color is alarmingly vivid. Also, I had a dear English professor who goes by Chard for short and is a poet and that connection made me smile big.

Leafy romaine <3
We also put an irrigation system together for all the rows after all the plant refuse was cleared, and that was cool to watch. The system consists of three hollow, strawlike hoses being laid out on the soil beds, which were connected to three faucet-like fixtures at the start of the row. Looks like a T with three offshoots rather than one. We then planted the broccoli and cauliflower and then put rowcover on all of the transplants.  Rowcover is a microfiber sheet (I think) that is put over the plans as protection from bugs and harsh sun. It was billowing in the wind today and looked like God's comforter.  I'm sure he also has a pretty awesome bed. (of brocolli!) I love watching the wind go through things. The natural contours are so affecting.

We then planted potatoes all together after Tripp, the farm manager plowed the rows with the tractor. I liked the sense of comraderie, weeee.

We ate dinner. We drove back home. Day One Done. Now I finish this post and go to bed.



Monday, February 18, 2013

First Day in Georgia

Dear friends,

I'm finally in the land of peaches and pecans! With the lovely and amazing Annie Keithline. I arrived in Albany, Georgia yesterday afternoon and Annie picked me up. I was so happy to finally get off the bus. My legs were screaming in delight. Annie and I walked around the metropolis of Albany for a while and listened to some jazzy jazz at Ray Charles plaza. It was architecturally very cool, part of it was these life size piano keys right on the ground.

Annie then took me to Riverside BBQ, finest BBQ joint in town. We feasted on Southern fare like fried okra (!!!!!) which I've wanted to try for a looong time and Brunswick stew, a chili like concoction named after the city in Georgia. Lots of people here love it.

We then found ourselves at the Flint RiverQuarium, a beautiful aquarium that features local marine life and educates about local water supply and water water everywhere. We saw amazing species of fish and got to play with sand and water and recreate erosion...it brought me back to school science classes. Ohh yeah.

We did a bit of grocery shopping since nearest food store is about 15 miles from the farm and then took a BEAUTIFUL scenic drive to Bluffton, where Annie lives with her housemates that also work on the farm. I was struck dumb by how gorgeously GREEN the grass was-- and also saw a lot of Spanish Moss on the trees, which Annie says is a parasitic organism that gets everywhere.

Annie had a gig at a restaurant and bar called Kuntry Rooster's yesterday and we saw her name advertised in the limelight while driving back! She was absolutely shocked but I thought it was fantastically appropriate.

Annie's billboard!
We made a quick stop at the farm where I met one of Anne's farm co-workers, Jesus, and got a quick tour of the facilities. White Oak Pastures is an organic farm that grows vegetables and livestock, and they have a slaughter house right on the facility. We got some lettuce and eggs for the house and some rosemary too. I loooove herbs and spices, and picked right off the bush--herbaliciousness.
We got to the house and settled in. She gave me ze tour and I met the other housemates, Gil (named after Gilbert Blythe of Anne of Green Gables!!), Frankie, Lori, and Trip--farm workers one and all. I had some coffee Gil made for me (sleeping on a Greyhound demands early evening coffee) and Annie practiced for her Rooster's gig. There's all these good books for me to read here too, Wendell Berry, Joseph Campbell, Harville Hendrix. Yay.

Plus Annie's cooking totally rocks. I am always amazingly and deliciously well fed whilst in Annie Keithline's vicinity. Actually, I'm always fed well when I'm in the company of others because meals become an event of mutual caring and sharing! It's harder to do by yourself, although still mighty rewarding.

Annie and I created a groovy ambiance at Rooster's with dry ice dissolving in bowls and creating a foggy white haze. And candles. Lots and lots of candles. Hearing her perform live with an adorable guitalelee in a smashing dress was very special. And we had a great crowd there too :)

Annie K doin her thang

Tomorrow farm work begins. I think we're going to take a bike ride around the area to get more aquainted!

Oh there is also a playful dog here named Onyx and cats! Bacon, Stripey, and Sigmund. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013

On the Road

I've been on a Greyhound bus (regrettably not a Peter Pan, my magical favorite) since 8 a.m. yesterday morning. I am at my last transfer spot in Florida. Yes, FLORIDA. Jacksonville, so northern Florida, but nonetheless quite weird and excellent to see palm trees in the middle of winter. I wish my good friend Viviana could come up from Miami--it would be so lovely to see her. Oh, my long distance friendships!

Anyhow, after this connection we go back up to Georgia, which I should reach before noon. I've gotten some sleep on the bus and noticed travel companions, a few people who have been on all of the same buses as me from the morning. A silent sense of camaraderie exists between us. Yesterday in Fayetteville, NC a man named Bruce sat next to me and we talked some about our families and work.

Bruce has had a lot of jobs in his lifetime and quite a few medical procedures too. We talked about the body's amazing ability to heal itself under the right conditions and about learning biofeedback to lower heart rate. He likened biofeedback to a sort of meditation and I would like to learn more about that with my mind-body connection fascination. Bruce is going to care for his dad out in Georgia before and after an eye surgery. Both Bruce and his father served in the military, and they both went to Vietnam. Thank you for your service, Bruce. I loved one thing especially that he said with regards to work--if work is your whole life its easy to become discontented and bored, but with other hobbies, interests, and involvements, jobs are put in perspective. Seek balance. What you do is not necessarily what you are. Hmmmm.

Talking about our families made me miss mine and spurred phone calls to my parents. I got to talk to Andrey Jr.!!

With that, I can't wait to see Annie in under six hours! The Greyhound bus has no WiFi. Whenever I bring a laptop I generally don't use it--I am typing this up on my phone. Oi.

By the way, I do feel like y'all are in my pocket. This is wonderful. Off to do some stretches before boarding again. Gotta be good to the body that's so good to me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Georgia, Baby

Dear friends and family,

I am embarking on an exciting adventure. In the next few days I will be travelling to Albany, Georgia to visit one of my best friends, Annie Keithline. Annie is walking accross (actually more like around) the country for peace. You can read more about her amazing journey here. She has been working at White Oak Pastures, a farm in Bluffton, Georgia, for the past few weeks. I'm going to be dancing into some farmwork with her, and then we're going to walk Georgia and I will experience the peace walk.

I am deeply excited and certainly jittery about this trip. I've dreamed of joining Annie soon after she began this soulful journey last March and I have finally created room to actually do it both in my heart and in my life. (Thank you to the people that have given me support--it means so so much.)

I will be farming for two weeks and walking for two weeks. One month. From this trip I am going to choose what my next step is going to be with regards to beginning a new job. I left an office job last December after a year.  Being in a confined space was hard for me. My body was crying out!  I've worked a few part time gigs since then and the next adventure is wanting to be born. I know I'm going to get much more out of it than an answer to a profession, though. A few things I want to learn/work on:

- Learning about growing food. Witnessing and being a part of this natural and essential process.
- Deciding and following through on personal projects/dreams/aspirations
- Learning to better deal with fear, doubt, anxiety and frustration
- Directing my ecstatic energy in meaningful, cogent ways (last two are Annie's goals as well).

I'm going to be updating this blog lots while journeying, so my family knows where I am and so I can update all my new friends from NYC as well as my older buds. Also, it'll give me a good opportunity to work on my writing. Please leave me comments if you feel at all compelled. Correspondence and meeting people are two of my greatest joys.

Thanks for your interest! LOVE to you all!


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Leapfrogs, Renting Rooms & Running Around Manhattan. Amazing.

I just had the craziest, most amazing day. Whirlwind of activity, whirlwind of emotions!!!

I got to see special friends today and drink cappuccino with them and talk about the joy of movement and dance and art and tree houses.

I felt the impulse to go home to RI for my brother's birthday. I bought a bus ticket on a whim and didn't get a seat on the bus due to a reduced bus schedule because of Nemo the snowstorm monster. (Oiii, Svet!)

I had my first taste of Turkish food with my beautiful Turkish friends and finally meet my good friend's special someone :) ...with more great conversation.

And I come home feeling very full and inspired. Wanting to write lots and collage lots.

Oh and also an important need, friends:

If anyone knows anyone who needs a room in Astoria from mid February to mid March, please contact me! I'll give a reasonable rate and my room totally rocks. Here's the Craigslist ad. I have an airbnb add up too with a more comprehensive description. Email me through that if you want more information.



Talking Improv with Yoanna Wei

I met my friend Yoanna Wei while taking a Level 0 (yes, they exist) improv class at the People's Improv Theater in NYC. She's been going strong and hard since the class and really quite involved at the PIT and the improv scene. She sat down over tacos to talk to me about it.

Svetlana: Yoanna, how long have you been doing improv?
Yoanna: Since September 2011. A year and a half.
S: We met through that PIT (People’s Improv Theater) class, Level 0, but you were doing improv before that, right?
Y: Before Level 0 I was doing jams at the PIT, not much formal instruction. Then I was at a jam and they were giving away a free Level 0 so I put my name in the pot and won it.
S: Awesome. And then your improv career just took off, right!?
Y: Sure. I just finished Level 3 at the PIT so I’m not there yet.  There are 5 levels at the PIT and I just started taking level 1 at UCB (Upright Citizen’s Brigade).
S: What’s the difference bw UCB and the PIT? I’ve heard that UCB is more hardcore.
Y: Well, UCB classes are accredited, and it’s more like a school type environment—they are more stringent about their requirements. To move from 201 to 301 you have to get approval from a teacher. At PIT there aren’t those kinds of requirements. And yes, UCB is competitive, but it’s also like family—when I go to jams there I don’t feel like people are stepping on each other—they’re nice about it. UCB produces a lot of up and coming comedians like Kate McKinnon who is on Saturday Night Live and she’s from UCB so, if you wanna go big, you definitely want to start at UCB. But at the same time, PIT also produced good comedic actors like Kristin Shaw, she’s on Bob’s Burger, and she was on a house team at the PIT.

S: So, what made you want to try improv?

Y: I started doing improv with a student group on campus, and we were doing short form improv and I was intrigued to see what long form improve was like. I really liked improv and have always wanted to be in theater, and so improv is a form of theater in my mind.

S: Did you do drama in high school? Where did you get the acting bug?

Y: My sister is a math major in college. She enjoys it. Both my parents were originally in medical school. They don’t have any artistic things going on. I guess they watch TV…I don’t want to say they don’t have artistic pursuits…I mean a lot of it was when I was little I always preferred to read novels, and sort of gravitated towards that. When I was in high school I did theater tech and got a chance to see student actors practicing, and that is when I knew I wanted to do theater. In my last semester of undergrad, I was in a play and I just knew it was something I wanted to do. It was a student written play called Finding the Light.

S: It is so interesting to me when people say “I just knew,” when you feel so drawn to something.  Another thing—when we were talking about creativity and your parents, and you know, when someone says that they write, or they sculpt, or whatever, if one does not do that, it doesn’t mean they’re not creative. There is something special about practicing creativity with other people.

Y: Mhhm. In creativity, you are literally creating something with somebody else with no preplanning.

S: Which can be pretty scary if you think about it! And it’s fun.

Y: Yes. I love the spontaneity of improv. Part of the reason for that is I am lazy and don’t like memorizing lines and also, if a director does not give you a part you have nothing to say, but in improv, you are your own director.

S: You can always have something to say. I feel like there is something vitally important about creating something of your own.

Y: Yeah, I get it. A lot about creating something is expressing your emotions and yourself and finding out about yourself.

S: Yes, like “I didn’t even know this was in me!” When I did my first play in college, I wasn’t every really drawn to it, but when I was finally on stage acting it out, I was like “I LOVE THIS.” We all have this creative impulse. Such self growth happens through creativity. Yes and it!

Y: Yes Tina Fey said that—you can apply a lot of improv rules to life. It helps in saying yes to more.

S: How did the improv team you’re with now form?

Y: That is sort of an odd situation. All three of us knew that we were the only three Asian people who hang out at the PIT so one night all three of us were sitting at the bar and Sean was like, “You guys want to start a team?” And yeah, that’s how it happened.  But we aren’t racially exclusive. We want to include other people and are looking for new members.

S: How long has XOXO been a team and how did you guys get your name?

Y: Since July/August, so half a year now.  We got our name while standing outside the PIT one night before a show and Sean (again) saw XOXO on a poster and said, “That should be our team name.” And that’s how it happened.

S: Ahhh. So what are the other rules of improv?

Y: “Yes and” is the huge one—then, you know, take your partner’s offers, support your partner’s moves…all other rules stem from “Yes, and.”  Just go with what’s happening and add your own information…because literally you are creating something out of thin air. Also, a lot of acting rules apply to improv: be vulnerable, show your emotions, let your partner affect you,  be real, be honest. All those really help what happens on stage.

S: Another thing I like about improv is that when watching it, a lot of it is fantastical and exaggerated, but a lot also humorously reflects the awkward interactions in day to day life, and that makes me feel less alone!  People are laughing at it, and so am I! I’m not the only one that that’s happened to! It’s a great reminder to do that in real life. To embrace our weirdness, our quirks…

Y: Yeah, definitely. The audience usually laughs when some form of truth is arrived at in the scene.  

S: Ohhh I like that!

Y: Nate Starkey taught me that. He teaches level 4 and 5 at the PIT and he’s on the Big Black Car house team.  I’ve observed many shows and I’ve found that to be very true. They recognize the realness.

S: The audience recognizes themselves in that truth and so laughs—an instant community of knowing is created.

Y: Yes. Art imitates life. So if you’re being real on stage, it is organically funny.

S: Not trying too hard.

Y: Yeah, trying to be funny is another improv no no. You don’t want to be jokey. You want to really be honest.

S: Good distinction. When I was taking my class I would try to do that sometimes, and it would feel off, inauthentic. Just doing the improv is enough. Being there and responding.

S: So, have you met any famous people at the PIT?

Y: A few, yes. Aubrey Plaza. One time Abby Elliot was doing a show at the PIT as well.

S: That’s neat. I don’t even know who they are. Hyper links above to their bios! Yoanna, did you do any acting in college besides improve?

Y: Yes, I was in a few plays with a group of Columbia med school students called the Bard Hall Players—I was in the chorus of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, in the winter production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I played Robin Starling and I was an extra in Rumors. It was fun. Theater is definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had. I wish I did more plays in college.

S: Me too.

S: One thing with theater is you can become close to the people you are doing it with. It’s like you are bringing something into the world with them.  Almost like childbirth—the play is practiced, gestates, grows—until it’s ready to come out. Is that one of the things you really enjoy about it? Why do you think you enjoy acting and improve so much?

Y: A lot of it is gut feeling. When you’re doing improv on stage you just feel so liberated—like “Oh man, I am creating something right here.” And also, acting is like being as human as possible. You are living life in a way that no other profession can give you. You are creating characters. You are experiencing these emotions. It’s like you’re living simultaneously in many parallel universes. And you get to experience more of life that way.

S: I think that’s right. You’re experiencing more.  I feel like it’s similar with reading, but in acting, you are actually embodying who these characters are, so it’s different—it comes alive. It is so exciting.  It expands your awareness and experience so much.

S: Who are your favorite improvisers/comedians?

Y: Ashley Ward is very funny. She taught level 1 and 3 at the PIT and she’s in Big Black Car (a PIT house team). Brigid Boyle—she is on The Baldwins (another PIT improv team) and she is very funny. I really like the house team Birds too. Very good improvisers.

S: Thanks so much for your time and willingness to share your passion Yoanna!