Merlin Enchantment at Zach

Shana Merlin, that is – making improv magic with Wizards

Black magic woman: Shana Merlin
Black magic woman: Shana Merlin
Courtesy of Merlin Works

January seems to be a fortuitous month for improv launches. Last January saw the debut of the Institution Theater. Now Merlin Works, the improv institute founded by Shana Merlin, blasts over to new home Zach Theatre, marking the move with an improv showcase tonight starring Girls Girls Girls and Merlin Works instructors.

Without the move to Zach, there might not have been a Merlin Works this January. For the past five years, Merlin had made a home at Salvage Vanguard Theater on Manor Road through a partnership with Gnap! Theater Projects, the production company run by Shannon McCormick, Merlin's longtime friend and colleague in the improv duo, Get Up. When Gnap! decided to shift its focus from improvised theatre to the scripted kind, Merlin – who also began juggling her professional work with a new baby last spring – felt the increased workload and added pressures would force her to shut down the school. But a chance encounter with an old friend – Karen LaShelle of Creative Action – provided a boost of encouragement and the idea of finding a new home for the school. That led Merlin to contact Nat Miller, Zach's director of education (also an improv friend), who got behind the idea of adding adult improv classes to the wealth of classes that the theatre provides for youth. So Merlin Works survives to start its second decade.

And it's starting it with a new improv troupe made up of the school's outstanding faculty members. The Known Wizards – see what they did there? Merlin, Wizards? – consists of Lauren Buck, Quinn Buckner, Michael Joplin, Aden Kirschner, Kevin Miller, Ted Rutherford, Lacy Shawn, the aforementioned McCormick, and the head sorcerer herself, natch, with live keyboard accompaniment by Ammon Taylor. Their particular improv magic trick? Merging the best of shortform games with longform narrative. With the move to Zach, Merlin Works is able to host a monthly performance in the 230-seat Kleberg Stage, and the new troupe gives the show a ready-made headliner. The school's students will be able to perform as well, and improv troupes from around Austin will also be invited to play. For the premiere tonight, the invited guest is another group that Merlin is a member of: Girls Girls Girls, the creators of improvised musicals.

Tonight's grand opening starts at 6pm, with drinks, food, and a sneak peek at the new space. The show is at 8pm in the Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside. Tickets are $9. For more information, visit

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