Josh Lenn from International Theater Stockholm tells how improv helped him connect with people in Stockholm and how it’s all grown into a vibrant community.
Moving to Sweden from San Francisco seven years ago was a huge challenge for me. Leaving the community I had behind and not understanding the Swedish cultural codes, at times I felt like I lost touch with who I was. Creating an international improv community in Stockholm became my turning point. A community where I could express myself and also a positive place for others to be seen, supported and embraced for who they are.
I moved to Sweden because I fell in love with a Swede. We lived together in San Francisco for seven years and then decided to move here. Besides my wife and daughter I had no friends, no job, and I felt like I had lost part of my identity of who I was. This was both exhilarating and scary. Where do you start? Where do you find friends? A community? Big questions.
I remember taking my daughter to the park often after I moved here and having a really hard time connecting with other parents at the park. This was much different from home where it was very easy to have small talk with other parents and connect. Maybe even become friends. At home I also had an easy time saying hello and chatting with people who worked at the different shops and cafes in the neighborhood. I was eventually able to create that here, but in the beginning it wasn’t happening. People looked at me strange when I asked them how they were doing. Like it was a trick question. As an American not really connecting with my local community and receiving energy from there, I felt extremely lonely. Days would go by and unless I met other foreigners I wouldn’t have many conversations. And this was really strange because I am a very social person. I didn’t know how to connect and I felt like it was almost impossible to be myself.
Before I moved I was a part of the acting and improv community in the San Francisco bay area. I wanted to find that here, but it didn’t really exist in English, so I started to create it. I started teaching improv classes in English. I had classes full of people from all over the world. People from all different walks of life and mostly non-actors. I instantly saw the profound effect improv had on their experiences of Sweden as well as who they were as people. Students who were struggling with their new lives in Sweden started feeling more positive and found a place where they could express themselves here. Because the fundamentals of improv teach you how to say yes and accept what is given to you people started embracing change and their lives started flowing more. The transformative powers of improv theater on a personal level are amazing and it was exciting to see them in action for my students.
Teaching improv had an amazing effect on me as well. By helping others I felt connected in a way I hadn’t before. On top of that I started performing shows in English and I became friends with many of the professional Swedish improvisers active in the Swedish improv community.
The community I was searching for started to form. Now IT’S (International Theater Stockholm) is a professional theater company with shows every week, and has a thriving diverse community of around 100 students from all over the world taking classes from beginner to advanced. We have a growing group of people who are engaged in the theater as volunteers and interns, working on stage production, marketing and more. And for students who want to take their improv and acting to new levels and potentially reach the main stage, we have House Teams who get to perform more regularly.
The most amazing thing about the community is how supportive and inspiring it is. We have class shows four times a year and all students from beginner to advanced perform. Those are the best audiences I have ever seen. People are so generous towards each other and supportive that performers dare to take bigger risks and everyone’s confidence soars.
Whether you are an actor, doctor, designer, engineer, teacher, dad, student, the fundamentals of improv help you build confidence, tap into your endless creativity, and become a more generous supportive person. It is wonderful to see how profoundly the work and community has changed people’s lives in a positive way. You can read some of the student’s stories on the IT’s site.
There is a place for everyone at IT’S. If you want to be entertained and see a show we have 25 this spring. Or give theater a try and take classes, come to a drop-in workshop, or volunteer at an event. We have a hilariously fun, open and vibrant international community that is growing and waiting for you!
Josh is the artistic director of IT’S, a professional actor, teacher and a transformational trainer. As an actor he works in film, TV, video games, and is regularly on stage performing improv. He is the Artistic Director of International Theater Stockholm and he runs IT’S Communications which offers corporate workshops. He recently performed a completely improvised TED talk at TEDx Stockholm. joshlenn.com
International Theater Stockholm shows this winter/spring
Lost in Translation
Boulevardteatern, Götgatan 73, T-Skanstull
Fridays at 8 pm on Jan 15, 29, Feb 5, 12, 19, Mar 11, 18, Apr 8, 15, May 27
Boulevardteatern, Götgatan 73, T-Skanstull
Fridays at 8 pm on Mar 4, Apr 1, May 13