Tall Hobbit Improvisation: Please Don't Tag Me – I Just Need Laundry Detergent



Every actor, at some point, has thought about what it would be like if somehow they made it. Got famous. Did it. Superstar. And every actor definitely, on some level loves to receive attention and accolades. Despite my general inclination towards introversion and annihilating self criticism, my need for validation may be the only force more overwhelming. This belies a certain challenge to the true integrity of any creative output- but that’s another matter entirely.

The point being- I desperately want people to like me and tell me I am good. I also want to be pretty. As long as these compliments are said in a way that I can brush off and find a way to weasle out of actually accepting.

A foreigner in Vinh City receives a lot of attention- there are no more than ten foreigners that actually live in the city at any time and tourism is almost non-existent. I am the only blonde in the city. I can’t hide anywhere. In general, people are extremely kind. They want to say “Hello” to you, they want to know your name, where you are from, shake your hand, know if you can sing- and take a picture with you, or of you.

It is very charming to walk into a classroom of young students, and have them all gasp- and tell me I am pretty and look like Elsa from Frozen. Of course I want to look like a Disney character. Although, most of them do not know that I play Anna at home- and not Elsa, I do not correct them.

No one know’s how much I really want to be a princess.

It is very sweet that on my walk to work, there is a little boy who always screams “Hello!” from the other side of the street. He yells it maybe 6 or 7 times, and I have to respond everytime because he is just so excited and passionate about the greeting.

It is very endearing that there is a little old man who always wants to say “Hello” to us, and then have us say “Xin Chao” back to him. It delights him and it delights me.

I have a certain allottment of energy for these sorts of interactions. The same sort of energy that I use for modeling, improv, teaching and acting. I feel like I have to open myself so much- as there are a lot of people around me who need my energy in these situations and I need to be flexible, and completely turn off my self-doubt. I need to put on my human suit and act like I am totally cool at doing this. Totally confident. I got this.

And I can do that! But after that- it’s shut down time. It’s time to walk home in silence and not say anything to anyone for a long time. Time to sit on the roof and open a beer and let all the stimuli go- time to reasses the embarassing situations that I ignored while in performance mode. Time to recharge.

New York City taught me a bit about the sanctity of silent travel. Many people, myself included love to ignore the outside world during the commute. That’s your time to have your headphones in and prepare for your day.

This is such an odd thing to have negative feedback about- and I never thought that I of all people would be driven to this point but- there is such thing as too much attention. There is a point where you really want to ask people to leave you alone, but you can’t because you will be labeled as rude. I don’t need to be known as the rude blonde girl, because there’s no one to confuse me with.

I do not like when people take my photograph without asking. I’m a good model. I can give you a pose and the right angle on my face, but that photo of me with one eye open eating a cucumber really does not need to be seen by the internet. In fact, I don’t really want any photos of me eating. When my students take out their phones and very clearly take pictures of me while teaching, I know that angle is horrible. When I just want to go to the grocery store, I don’t want to see a group of women laughing and taking my picture with their phones as I desperately try to figure out how to read nutrition facts. I don’t always want to wear a full face of makeup.

Lookin’ good, Steph.  Please hire me.

It is not as though I really care in particular if half of Vinh City has horribly unflattering photos of me- but I would rather that they ask me. If someone wants a photo with me, I will always oblige them- even if I don’t really want to, just because I appreciate that they actually asked me.

Having a group of people with a camera laughing at you just does not feel good. Many times, I have had people translate that it is just that they think I am pretty, or they like my hair or eyes but no matter how much reassurance I receive, I am always a million percent sure that they are making fun of me and taking horrible pictures on purpose to show their friends and call me mean names.

Michael receives just as much ridiculous attention. Everyone wants to walk up to him and measure where they come up to on his body- since he towers over everyone here. Because he is so big, I have witnessed a woman run and jump on his back, after which she insisted on kissing my forehead. For this specific experience, we were both so perplexed that we just let it slide.

Part of the reason that I am always so exhausted is that when I am in public, I always have to be “on”. And I want to be out doing things as much as possible- to make the most of my time here.

The positive side of this, is that I really don’t feel a lot of stress to attempt to reach fame. That’s a joke. Because, like, I was never going to be famous but now I can act like it was by choice. #Gotem

Tall Hobbit Improvisation: Gibberish Scenes – How to survive basic encounters when you can’t understand each other.

Gibberish Scenes

How to survive basic encounters when you can’t understand each other.

This is full blast, high stakes charades - it might be embarrassing, but how bad do you want it? Do you REALLY need to know what time your train leaves? Probably. How much does it matter if you get a smoothie or juice? You decide.

Nimrod was actually the name of the guy who tried to build the Tower of Babel. Nimrod is also a great word to call someone you don’t like- but I did not realize the depth of the implication.

For my secular pals who haven’t read much Old Testament, and to those that just prefer lighter reading material- The Tower of Babel is the origin of why humans are cursed with so many different languages. Apparently, we used to have just one. And everyone could talk to everyone, and it was great.

Then along comes this asshole, King Nimrod. He’s feeling real good, too good even and he decides that he is going to build a tower so tall that it reaches up to Heaven and he can be equal with God- or who/whatever you believe lives up there. Lots of humans agree that this is a great plan and that God probably has some pretty sweet digs up there that they would like to see so they start to build this tower.

And they build and build and it is all going cool until God notices that these little assholes are building a tower all the way to his front doorstep. He thinks, “Wow, I gave these guys a whole planet and it’s not enough? After they already ruined the nice garden I gave them too? Why can’t they understand that I am all powerful and they are not?”

God destroys the tower and the thing crumbles. Some dudes fall out of the sky. This is Old Testament so I would bet that the death toll was pretty high. Once the dust settles and everyone realizes that they just wasted a LOT of time on Nimrod’s idea, they all realize that they no longer understand each other- that God was so pissed that humans were so presumptuous that he cursed them to speak different languages so none of them could understand each other, so none of them could communicate on such a large scale as to do something so massively stupid ever again.

Ok, so I haven’t actually read that story in a very long time. But when I was in Krakow, Poland there was a set of tapestries that illustrated it. Chances are I am missing some really important details- or missing the moral but the point is that I think about Nimrod a LOT. I curse his name almost daily.

Calling someone a Nimrod is intense. You are implying that they are SO stupid, that they would try to build a tower to heaven, and they are so stupid that they think it would actually work. (Structurally, I believe this would be impossible, not to mention the moral implications.) It’s an insult I have added back into my repertoire.

But this guy really messed things up for us. Language is horrible. English is a terrible abomination where nothing makes sense, where words mean or don’t mean different things and every grammatical “rule” has a thousand exceptions for no reason, just ’cause.

Vietnamese is not really any easier, from what I can discern. There are four different intonations of the language, so even if you can write a word down or read it, chances are you are doing it wrong and you may have well not said anything at all. Both languages have certain sounds that we just don’t have in the other. And this means that we spend a lot of time just staring at each other, just trying to will the other to comprehend. Then I repeat myself in English, even though the coffee waitress still doesn’t speak English, and she will ask me something again in Vietnamese and I will stare at her because I still do not speak Vietnamese and we are at a verbal impasse.

But we are both determined to survive this.

Vinh City is not a tourist city. There is very little that is accessible in English and so, there are certain skills and preparation required for basic transactionry scenes.

1. Be brave.

Be ready to embarass yourself and accept that you may not get what you want.

2. Go slowly

Try and say the words you know, it probably won’t work. You might be really sure you said “pink” but the way you stumbled the pronunciation makes it mean “waist.”

3. Get ready to mime.

Go for it. Use every hand gesture you know. Use every context clue you can. This is full blast, high stakes charades- it might be embarrassing, but how bad do you want it? Do you REALLY need to know what time your train leaves? Probably. How much does it matter if you get a smoothie or juice? You decide.

My favorite instance of this goes to an extremely earnest restaurant owner in Kutna Hora, in the Czech Republic whom in an incredibly devoted attempt to get my boyfriend and I to understand that there were mashed potatoes on the menu, actually ran into the kitchen and returned with a potato and proceeded to make very emphatic mashing gestures upon said tuber.

4. Download an offline translator for the language onto your phone.

This is a last ditch effort and only works with a lot of context. Someone was trying to ask me if I liked spicy food and showed me their phone screen reading “Dancing Fire”, and if he hadn’t made hand gestures and mimed eating something spicy, I probably would have remained baffled.

5. If you like something, take a picture of it.

Everytime I go to a restaurant and find something I like, I photograph it. Chances are I did not order it and have no idea what it is actually called but next time, I can just show the photo and point emphatically until the food appears.


There’s this great moment though, between you and the other person, where you both think “AHA!” as though you have both unraveled what the other was trying to say. And boy, do you hope that you did. It is extremely satisfying knowing that you both managed to be committed enough to the scene you were performing to actually understand each other. You feel closer to that person, you’ve been through an ordeal with them.

Improvisors often recommend staying away from performing transactionary scenes, ie between a cashier and someone checking out, because people often get stuck in just going through the motions of what happens during a checkout lane and not making any emotional connection to the other actor.

I never need to see another transaction scene- the one’s I have had to perform here are so long and desperate and trying to order a coffee sometimes turns into a three act play, and its a sick combination of comedy and tragedy.

I have ended up with many different beverages that I did not intend to order, but I have no idea what any of them were, or what series of mouth utterances and gestures would be able to summon that specific beverage ever again.

You learn to roll with it.


Tall Hobbit Improvisation: Extra Baggage – Carrying Grief

Tall Hobbit Improvisation: Extra Baggage – Carrying Grief

There’s a million more reasons why improvisation is pretty much training to be a good human- but these are some that really helped and challenged me.