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Presenter Spotlight: The Dynamic Duo

The Global Improvisation Initiative has the privilege of welcoming the talented pair, Nanci Carol Ruby and James Ruby to the GII Symposium 2017. Nanci Carol Ruby is a faculty member of Chapman University’s Department of Theatre. She has taught at The Theatre School of DePaul University, Northeastern Illinois University, and California State University, Fullerton. At Chapman, she co-directs the Senior BFA Showcase with film director, John Badham, and recently directed Dog Sees God for Chapman’s mainstage season. Nanci Carol has directed, acted, and collaborated with many theatres across the nation including The American Theatre Company, Apple Tree Theatre, Center Stage Theatre, Lexington Shakespeare Festival, Centerlight Theatre for the Deaf, and Kentucky Opera. James Ruby is Associate Professor in the Department of Human Services & Counseling at California State University, Fullerton. Dr. Ruby holds a PhD in Research Methodology and Human Development from Loyola University of Chicago, a MA in Community and Family Counseling from Northeastern Illinois University, and a BA in Broadcasting and Religious Studies from Western Kentucky University. He is a Nationally Certified Counselor, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and holds a Pupil Personnel Services credential as a School Counselor. Prior to coming to higher education, he worked in the therapeutic day school, community mental health, and private practice environments. His research interests include the use of arts-based experiences in counseling, undocumented immigrant student challenges, and effective counselor education practices. Together, Nanci Carol and Jim are the proud parents of two sons. They have also created a course for the California State University, Fullerton, Department of Human Services called “Integrating Acting and Psychodrama Techniques into Human Services.” This team is unstoppable and we can't wait to see what they do with their workshop at the Impro Symposium, where they aim to explain how they have trained clinical counselors by using improvisation and acting techniques.

Pictured above: Students in Nanci Carol and Jim's class create inner and outer expression of self through mask work

If someone were to introduce you, what parts of your career would you like them to highlight?

Nanci: Seasoned actor: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Tony Award winner Deanna Dunagan; All-female Shakespeare, Footsteps Theatre; Working at American Theatre Company, Studs Turkel consultant.

Acting Teacher: The Theatre School, DePaul University, Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, Agent-recommended on-camera coach, coached actors for Stephen Soderburgh, Charles Stone III, and Robert Rodriguez

James: I would love for them to highlight my work as an educator, equipping students to make a positive impact in the world by helping others.

What is the most memorable moment in your career?

Nanci: Seeing my students take flight on stage: In 2016 a young student with unique challenges played the lead in his middle school's production of Shrek. His performance was honest and beautiful. One week later I saw a past student, Lauren Patton, in her Broadway debut as she took over the role of Medium Alison in Fun Home. I was equally proud of these young actors. I celebrate their gifts and their tenacity.

James: I would say that the most memorable moment was when I earned my PhD while working full time, and having two children. I would never have imagined being able to do such a thing and if it weren’t for my wife (and co-presenter), Nanci Carol Ruby, I would never have made it!

Pictured above is Dog Sees God, the Chapman University Production Nanci Carol Ruby directed this last Fall

What is the best advice you have ever received?

Nanci: Embrace the chaos and find your focus in the middle of it.

James: Sometimes the best thing to do is wait because silence is not your enemy. It is the space in which your soul can finally talk to you.

How do you incorporate the skills you have gained through improvisation to your daily life?

Nanci: A mistake is an opportunity to be brilliant. I firmly believe that a life well-lived is moment-to moment improvisation; living a pre-planned life denies self of connection, joy, and discovery.

James: I am not an actor or entertainer, but the training I have received in improvisation enables me to walk into professional settings feeling prepared to respond to whatever is put before me in a given day. The “yes, and” energy that fuels improvisation work also fuels my work with students, colleagues and administration in the university. It also helps fuel healing and wholeness in counseling clients feeling anxious or facing troubled relationships and questions about their futures.

James Ruby working with class

Pictured above: James Ruby with CSUF students who all purchased TOMS shoes as a visable action towards collective awareness and change

What are your favorite rituals, warm-ups, or exercises in your work?

Nanci: Focus on allowing breath to flow in and out of my body rather than controlling the breath; it is the difference between truth and falsehood.

James: “Yes, and” and “point and untell” are both useful in my work with counseling clients and students. They breed openness and foster new possibilities.

How do you make your work accessible to audiences (non-improvisational or an international audience or inexperienced)?

Nanci: Engage through play and thoughtful reflection

James: I adjust the goals of a given exercise to the discipline that my students are studying. For

instance, regarding counseling skills, I use “yes, and” to exemplify active listening and following the client’s lead. I make the exercise less about building a scene and more about building a relationship.

What aspect of your work scares you the most and how do you deal with that?

Nanci: Limits placed on opportunities by those who wear blinders unawares. Metaphorical blinders are worn by so many that wield power and the theatrical arts are no exception. The conscious choice to deny that inequality exists in opportunities afforded artists identified as "other" is abhorrent to me. I choose to work, play and love with my full self everyday. I choose to name what is true from my own perspective and to listen to and to consider the perspectives of others.

James: When I was using improvisation exercises in my clinical counseling work, I sometimes wondered whether or not my clients would be willing to explore things by using them. Would my clients take me seriously if I asked them to play “Yes, and” with their partner? Would they write off the experiences as “childish” or “silly?” I had to face those concerns by simply inviting my clients to try something new. After all, doing what they had always done clearly wasn’t working for them. With time, my clients were able to take the improvisation journey with me. Families were doing “Dr. Know it All” together, facing the difficulties of working together and compromising. The exercises became a metaphor for the work that they had to do.

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