Describing my time with Improv Iceland would be impossible. It was unbelievable in just about every way and in large part because of it's artistic director Dóra. She is effortlessly cool, funny and the kind of person you would describe as having the "it" factor, if that's the sort of thing you would say. She has an unnameable, immeasurable quality that brightens and illuminates every room. Go to Iceland for the gorgeous nature and thermal baths; stay for the improv.
Anděl Sudik: How would you like to be described?
Dóra Jóhannsdóttir: Kind, funny, smart, good mom and hot
AS: Where are you from?
DJ: Reykjavik, Iceland
AS: Life story in half a page, GO!
DJ: Born and raised in Reykjavik, Iceland. Middle class, like more than 90% of our population at that time. Lived in Sweden, Denmark and Spain for a short time. After graduating college I wanted to become a theatre director but there was no place to study that in Iceland at that time so I studied acting. I had a successful career in theatre, film and tv for 7 years. At 29 I had a baby with my boyfriend who I studied with in acting school and worked with for many years after. We got married a month before moving to NY in 2013 (We had to get married because of visa stuff, but people here don´t think about marriage necessarily even though they are in love and have children together). My husband got into the Masters Program in Directing and Screenwriting at Columbia University, so I quit my contract at the theatre to support him and be a stay at home mom in NY with our 2 year old then. People were shocked at me leaving my career behind but I had a gut feeling it would all work out for the best. We lived in NY for 4 years, subletting 2 rooms in our apartment to various people to make ends meet. We moved back to Iceland in 2016 and got divorced soon after (NY ruined us!). My son is now 8 years old and I work as an improviser, actor, director, writer, producer and I´m not sure but I might have a boyfriend.
AS: You brought improvisation to Iceland. How did you discover improv?
DJ: I was looking for something to do in NY for myself. I didn´t have any money nor time since I had to take care of our son while his father was in a rigorous program at Columbia. After 6 months roaming the streets of NY with a stroller (In February 2013) I stumbled into an ASSSSCAT show at the UCB and fell in awe and love. I got a grant from the Actors Union in Iceland and started taking as many classes as I could for the 4 years we lived in NY. Twice a year I´d come home to Iceland to teach classes in what I´d already learned (Long form improv had never set it´s foot in Iceland before). In 2015, a year before I moved home from NY I started Improv Iceland. My second year of teaching in Iceland, I got a grant from the government to teach students for free. So that´s when I could build up a strong core group without them having to spend a lot of money.
AS: How would you describe Icelandic Improv’s style?
DJ: When I first started teaching, I´d only taken classes at UCB. So our core style is UCB style. But later I started taking classes from other places like Magnet Theatre, The Annoyance and Christian Cappazzoli (who later started Reckless Theatre). So there was some influence from those sources later. Last summer I did an intensive at The Second City and brought icelandic people with me who did intensives at IO. After that we´ve been trying to bring more of Chicago style into our improv. We´ve brought in teachers from UCB, Magnet, Second City, IO, Annoyance and more places. But still people who come from abroad and watch us, they say we obviously play with a UCB style.
AS: Your group includes pop stars, actors etc, how does that affect your shows or your group, or does it?
DJ: In Iceland there are only 350.000 people. The people who became the first house team of Improv Iceland were young and very talented. As we all grew up, many of our members became very successful in other areas. In our group of 20 regular performers we have 4 big pop stars, Iceland´s biggest stand up comedienne and 6 people with full time jobs in theatre and film. So even though these people still try to do shows when they can, we miss them a lot of the time in both rehearsals and shows.
AS: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment? Why?
DJ: My baby of course but second comes Improv Iceland. Starting an improv community from scratch has been a huge part of my life for the past 5 years and I´ve worked almost non stop at it obsessively. A lot of improv rules apply to starting an improv scene. I learned that you almost can´t control anything. You can´t force or manipulate people to participate or rehearse. You just have to create an environment where people want to be. And even though people are incredibly talented, you can´t make them stay in improv unless they really want it themselves. In managing people you really really have to say yes and a lot. You just have to listen and respond. And you can´t do it on you own.
AS: What is your biggest failure? And what(if anything) did you learn from it?
DJ: It´s just been everytime I make an exception to a rule I´ve made in managing things, It always comes back to hit me in the head. Also, when I don´t listen to my instincts, things inevitably start falling apart.
AS: Describe your perfect day:
DJ: Waking up with my son and doing some activities with him. Writing a bit, doing improv a bit, dinner at a restaurant and having a beer until late at night.
AS: How did you get where you are?
DJ: Luck, destiny, perseverance, being born in Iceland.
AS: What are you most proud of?
DJ: My son, Improv Iceland and Áramótaskaupið which is Iceland´s annual satire comedy show that airs on New Year´s eve with 90% ratings and I head wrote last year.
AS: What is one of your fears?
DJ: Something bad happening to the people I love.
AS: What keeps you going every day?
DJ: Life. I love life. It´s very hard a lot of the time but I always keep in mind that I love what I get to do every day and the people I get to spend time with.
AS: Last piece of art that spoke to you?
DJ: Today I went to a show at The Icelandic Arts Festival that was held at an entire block of flats in a suburb in Reykjavik. The curators asked all 200 apartments if they´d be a part of the show and only 5 said yes. Those invited the guests to their homes to a party. Some played music, some played video games, some played classical music and everyone interacted like they were guests in their homes. It felt wonderful. My son said it was awesome.
AS: Tell us an embarrassing story:
DJ: I pee myself alot. Since I was a kid. And it only happens if I laugh too hard. And it´s of course a job hazard since I work in comedy. I´ve peed my pants in front of a 500 people audience and tried to hide it for the rest of the scene. At the opening night of Improv Iceland, I also peed my pants. Unfortunately my son has inherited this condition so I hope he becomes a librarian.
AS: Pump up song?
DJ: Negla by xxx Rotweiler (my maybe boyfriend)
AS: What advice would you give to someone who is lost?
DJ: I´d try not to give advice and just listen. It´s hard.
AS: Do you have a mantra or words to live by?
DJ: There´s no problems, just solutions.
AS: What gives you meaning?
DJ: My son, comedy and love.
AS: What do you struggle with?
DJ: Money and cleaning.
AS: What is success to you?
DJ: Doing what you feel like you´re supposed to be doing.
AS: What are you working on that you’re geeked out about?
DJ: I´m working on my own sketch tv show. Terrifying and a dream come true.
AS: Anything else?
DJ: No, this is great!
AS: What question would you add to this?
DJ: What comes first/matters more? Love or career?
AS: What are some self care activities that you do?
DJ: I go to the gym, sauna and swimming pool a few times a week.
AS: What teacher changed your life?
DJ: So many improv teachers I´d say.. Honestly can´t name them all.
AS: What job career would you have if you could do anything?
DJ: Exactly the career I have today. Hope I don´t screw this up too soon.
AS: Ask your best friend: What is their favorite memory of you? What is something you've done that shook them to their core?
DJ: I asked by best friend and writing partner Saga and she sent me this: When we had to fly to the north of Iceland in the morning for a gig, and back to Reykjavik before noon to shoot a comedy video with all of Iceland´s rappers, and it was the craziest day of our careers and she thought the plain was going to crash and I held her hand and she felt she was happy about what we were doing together.