Ask a Trainer! Owen Stanford tells a story

By Polly Leger

School’s almost out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work on your story skills over the break! Ask a Trainer sat down with National Festival Director Owen Stanford to talk about sprucin’ up your story event! 

Owen Stanford wants to tell you a story

Owen Stanford wants to tell you a story


The Trainer: Owen Stanford


CIG Gig:  You may recognize Owen from his real life proposal during the live web-cast of the National finals this year. He was the 2013 National Festival director, former Toronto regional co-director and now he’s in Nova Scotia as the RD for the NS games.


Other Gigs: He’s performed with Toronto’s Bad Dog Theatre Company, but he’s also the founder of Make ‘Em Ups Improv Co., and one half of the duo “Lumber Jack and Jill.”


The Chops: Owen’s played, trained and judged with the CIG, as well as performed improv all over Ontario. You may know him as a counsellor and trainer from Improv U and Improv Camp!





THE QUESTION: Henoc Senay asked…

“How easy is it to continue to be involved in improv? How can I be involved in improv after high school?”


Your whole life is improv! We’re making it up as we go every day. If you want to stay active you will. Write down stories — just free write.  To get your brain moving in any way, just write. Start talking about what was in your lunch and what that made you think of. Just getting friends to pal around, and of course, contacting your regional directors and seeing what’s around in your area.


Q: How would you describe the key skills that you need to build a dynamite story event?

A: “I think the key elements are the five elements of a basic story. You actually use these in every event, this is just your chance to make it meatier.”

Q: Take us through the five elements?

A: “The first one would be the beginning, or the “platform“– characters, relationships and a location. Then you move on to develop those relationships. Next is the “What” of the scene. I don’t like to say conflict, because it’s not always about fighting something, but it’s the action, what’s moving the scene. Then it’s the “Matter,” the “Why,” the “Stakes”. This is what makes us care about the story. We need to know why we’re doing these things so it’s not just random actions. And then of course, there’s the conclusion, where everything comes back together in a nice little package.”

Q: How can players make their story events more sophisticated?

A: “Remember. Remember everything you can, from the beginning of that scene, and throughout. The more you can recall from past events within that scene, the more entertaining it is. The more the audience will love you. They’ll go ‘Wow, they’re not just performing, they’re also thinking.’ It’s how you can layer and marry suggestions for call backs.”


Owen says that working on memory games can really take Story events to the next level, so try bring mind-benders and memory games into your regular practices.

“Think of making up games as you go. For example, when you’re playing ‘Armchair’as a warmup game and you tell people to remember where they were in the room specifically and who they were with to create that machine. Throughout a workshop, maybe around hour one, you just yell out that machine again and get them to call back to it. Just little subtleties of memory games that you can call back. Even characters sometimes, if it’s your own original character, it’s great. Use the quirks you might default to, and use them in a different context. Working on these skills really falls both on the players as well as the trainers  or whomever may be directing an exercise.”

Thanks to Henock for the Q, and keep on tweeting your CIG-related questions to @CanadianImprov with the hastag #AskATrainer. Have so many questions that you can’t squeeze ’em into 140 characters? Email them to or leave a comment!