What It's Like to Improvise With Your Dad...

By: Hayley Kellett

At The Making-Box, we like to say that improvisation is like gasoline on a friendship fire. The techniques and skills built in our classrooms help strengthen bonds and build trust. If it’s great for new friends, why not apply the same fundamentals to family relationships?

Nick Zubeck and his son Jacob (Jake) signed up for an improv class and quickly discovered the benefits of learning and growing together. Even though both are creative folks (Nick is an accomplished musician, and Jacob is studying Integrated Media at OCAD) improvisational theatre was still very much outside of their comfort zones. To strengthen the bond between father and son, they decided to take the plunge together. I sat down with the duo to chat about their experience.

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Before we dive in to your experience in the classroom, why don’t you tell me a bit about your family?

Nick – We had kind of an unusual family growing up because Jake's mom and I split up when he was about a year old and I became the primary care-giver. He went to stay with his mom and her parents on weekends. I was [Jacob's] single Daddy Butter* from the age of one until five, when I met Kelly. We quickly became a little unit, a family, and that was really nice.

*I just want to quickly interject here - Jake calls his father, “Daddy Butter.”  When I heard this, I laughed for a full minute.*

Jake – I think Daddy Butter has probably been the biggest creative influence in my life, he always supported me artistically. I do mostly visual art, and when he was my age he made a lot of animation too, when I was younger, we made some music videos for him, so that’s how I started with film.

Nick – And you were drawing really amazing things since you were really, really little.

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

So you decided to take an improv class together, I’m curious how that decision was made.

Jake – Well, Kelly got the classes as a present.

Nick – That’s right, so it was originally going to be her and I taking the class together.

Jake – But then he was just going to do it, and he was looking for someone else to take the class with him, so he asked me if I wanted to and I wasn’t really sure, but then the day before the class I decided to try it.

Nick – The day of even!  It was the first class and I was like, “come on, let’s go let’s go!” And he was like, “alright” and he came along.

How was it jumping into an improv class together?

Nick – Our first class was with Patrick. That was a big class, that one.

Jake – I thought it was fun, it was neat to be [out of] a school setting, but a setting where I would put up my hand and ask the same kind of questions with my Dad.

Nick – Yeah it was [a way] to do something together that was really out of our realm of experience and that we were both really new to. Such a comfortable learning environment, and fun and just being around other people and not having the father/son dynamic there. It was like we were just friends doing this thing together. It was a nice and different way to bond.

Jake – Yeah, I remember the first day, the reason I gave for going was that I’ve tried sculpture and drawing and painting and music and this was an art form that I had never tried.  I went to Eastwood in Kitchener, which has a really good arts program, so I’ve had a lot of friends who have done acting there... I had seen a lot of drama classes, and it was neat to actually take one.

It was really amazing seeing the two of you together in class, because it did look like you were just friends trying something new together. Sometimes you would be performing together on stage and sometimes you would be separated, did you ever actively pursue being on stage together at the same time?

Nick – I never really thought about it too hard. We just let it happen the way it did and always had fun either way. It was always fun to end up in the same scenes together for sure.

Jake – And before class we always had a very comical rapport.

Nick – And we still do, we always tease each other and joke around.

Yeah, “Daddy Butter” makes that clear.

J & N – Yeah, haha!

At the end of every term, students participate in the Student Showcase. How was it performing in front a live audience together?

Nick – For me, the motivation to finally take the workshop was to get more comfortable improvising and being in front of an audience and other people. I do it all the time, but I still get nervous, I still have performance anxiety from time to time. It’s better now, especially when I’m doing solo stuff. I still think about all the workshops and all the games we did almost every time I perform now. It does help. Just going through the reminders, and I think us together at that showcase, I remember the energy and the excitement. Patrick was getting us pepped up, and there were lots of people there. I think we were both pretty excited, and had fun with it. I don’t remember feeling too nervous about it.

Jake – In the end, I thought it was really fun and the people in the class, you got to know them really well even though you only saw them once a week. For instance, going to class once a week at OCAD this first semester, I don’t really remember anyone but a couple people from the classes, but not really. That improv class setting I have a really solid memory of everybody.

Nick – Yeah it was a really unique experience to have with people.

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Now that you’ve completed a course together, have you noticed anything change in your dynamic because of your improv experience?

Nick - We are more comfortable around each other than we already were, and knowing each other’s sense of humour really well and being able to make each other laugh.

Jake – We got to see how each of us acts in a group setting like that, I mean it’s not like he ever went to school with me and saw how I interacted with people.

Nick – That’s true.

Jake – It was neat to see that side of each other.

Nick - At home, even up until that time I was this mother hen, I can fall into that so easily. I can nag him about not dressing warmly enough or all these little things that happen all the time as a parent. That dynamic never came into those workshops, I never would have thought of trying to correct him. It never came into the realm of that experience at all, it was a cool thing for a parent and a child to do together.

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Photo by: Nik MacMillan

Is this something you would recommend to other parents and their children to try together?

Jake - Yes, because of what we just explained there. Our relationship before this was already pretty close, it felt like we were just friends but a lot of father/son relationships aren’t like that.  I think it’s good to change that especially as the kid gets older.

Nick - I would recommend it too. Obviously both would have to be on board, interested, and curious about it. But if they were, I think it would be great.


Improv classes for adults, teens, kids, and little kids are now available at The Making-Box. Try a drop-in or take an 8-week class like Nick and Jacob did. Maybe it's just the family-fun-time bonding you need. 

HAYLEY KELLETT has spent most of her life celebrating two things: Ontario peaches and the joys of improv. Naturally she was filled with pride to be nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award: Best Female Improviser (2015) as well as NOW Magazine's Best Female Improviser (2015). Hayley has a long history with the world renowned Second City with select credits including Holidazed and Confused (Tour Co.), Miracle on Mercer Street and cruising the improv-seas with the Norwegian Star and Dawn. Other career highlights include kissing Colin Mochrie on the mouth.

HAYLEY KELLETT has spent most of her life celebrating two things: Ontario peaches and the joys of improv. Naturally she was filled with pride to be nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award: Best Female Improviser (2015) as well as NOW Magazine's Best Female Improviser (2015). Hayley has a long history with the world renowned Second City with select credits including Holidazed and Confused (Tour Co.), Miracle on Mercer Street and cruising the improv-seas with the Norwegian Star and Dawn. Other career highlights include kissing Colin Mochrie on the mouth.