The word is “mechanic.” Quick, what comes to mind? Now run with it. Create an entertaining story around that word and share your concept using only these tools - words, movements and imagination. Welcome to the world of improv.
“It was my sister Claire’s birthday so I took her to an improv show in LA,” Paul Limebrook recalled. “I was blown away, and thought to myself I could never do that.” However, he quickly changed his tune once his wife, Vicki Deane, told him he would be good at it and should give improv a try.
Taking those words to heart, Limebrook has been hard at work improving his technique ever since, taking classes on and off at Upright Citizens Brigade, and currently standing center stage at The Clubhouse in Los Angeles twice a month.
Limebrook, who has worked as an auto mechanic for more than three decades, grew up in Van Nuys in the 80s. While he enjoyed repairing cars amidst the glam and glitz of the motion picture studios filming nearby, he was also into the Hollywood rock scene, working as a roadie for Sunset Strip bands.
As his friends snagged studio jobs like gaffers and prop boys, his heart was set on becoming a professional roadie. And so, Limebrook - a guitarist perfecting his skill over the years - waited in the wings while his buddies worked with musical groups like Ratt and The Gap Band.
Ultimately deciding that sticking with cars was the path of least resistance, he relocated to the Mountain Area in 1991, opening All Automotive Electric in 1996. Then, quite unexpectedly, Limebrook’s life changed with that simple gift for his sister in 2013. Now, three years later, what began as a hobby has become an intrinsic part of his life.
The 53-year-old seems to have an affinity for the art form, saying he’s never been nervous, and loves the challenge, rush and satisfaction that performing improv provides.
Improvisation, or improv, is a style of live theatre in which the plot, characters and dialogue of a game, scene or story are made up in the moment. Typically improvisers ask for a single-word suggestion from the audience to get started.
There are two forms - the short form, which is like a game where you have a location, how the participants are related and what the urgency is, and the long form, where three different scenes are based off a single word from the audience. In the latter, the improviser is the actor, writer, editor and director all rolled into one.
Limebrook, who prefers the long-form style known as “The Harold,” gives an example of the way improv works. Recently someone in The Clubhouse audience tossed out the word “tuba.”
“Because she had an immediate idea, one girl stepped out, and placed two chairs in front of her, which meant she needed two improvisers to join her, so another woman and myself sat down. The girl looked at us and said, ‘Mom, Dad (so we knew our roles), I have a confession to make. I’ve been playing the tuba.’ ‘Oh no, not the tuba,’ I said. Mom screamed out a long drawn-out ‘no.’ And I said, ‘honey, we should have guessed. We’ve been finding them all over the house. They’re hard to hide. I even found one in the planter box. Now you know we’re a clarinet family so I can’t believe you went to brass ... please tell us you’ve haven’t progressed to percussions.
“Instead of finding out she’s doing drugs, we find out our daughter is playing the tuba, and create a story around that. You not only have to support the other improvisers, but need to think of what’s coming next. You only have seconds to think about it. It’s a rush when you’re on stage, and your mind is going a thousand miles a minute ... if this is true, what else is true ... when I hear the audience laughing, it pumps me up to do better. The adrenalin starts going. When it’s quiet and I hear crickets, I think let’s end this scene soon, please. To do a good improv scene, you have to commit to it, make it real, and act it out in your own style. Otherwise, it’s just not satisfying for the audience.”
Limebrook believes improv has not only improved his memory, but made him a much better listener because of his having to pay attention to details.
From improv, Limebrook has moved into commercials and voice overs. He credits his agents, Chris Roth and Cyrus Ruiz with Avant Artists, for finding him bookings and auditions.
“Last year, I got two really good auditions for VISA and Nissan,” he said. “In the VISA audition, I had two lines, which had to be said with an Australian accent. So I played Hugh Jackman interviews for the four-hour drive to LA to get the accent down. It turns out I was playing opposite an Australian woman, and when I asked her if I sounded Australian, she told me I sounded a little British, and I responded, ‘oh well, I’m from Northern Australia.’”
Out of the thousands who applied to act in the commercial - which would play exclusively in Australia - it was whittled down to five couples. Limebrook was the only American. Ultimately, he wasn’t selected, and in his frustration he spoke with his improv coach, who told him typically someone has to do 50 auditions before getting a job. So far, Limebrook has done 10.
Limebrook has had small background parts in more than 20 shows, including Superstore (Guns, Birds and Pills episode), The Middle, Code Black, Bones and NCIS. His favorite roles are period pieces.
“The Last Tycoon was set in the 30s with Kelsey Grammer, and it was really fun to do,” Limebrook said. “I was a dancer, even took a foxtrot lesson at Yosemite Dance Company in Oakhurst. I was on the show for three 14-hour days and was on camera a lot ... but it’s amazing what they film and how much they cut out.”
One of Limebrook’s fondest memories was doing a scene with comedic legend, Billy Crystal, on the short-lived 2015 television series, The Comedians.
And then there was his fleeting encounter with Halle Berry.
“I was at Paramount Studios in holding (where you can wait for hours for your scene), and usually I don’t speak to anyone. I just sit and read a book. Taking a break, I went outside and was drinking a cup of coffee in an alley between two sound stages when I saw this golf cart coming closer. I thought, hey I recognize her - it’s Halle Berry. She stopped her golf cart at the stop sign, looked over at me and said ‘hello.’ Because I hadn’t said a single word for so long, my voice cracked like a teen boy in puberty when I tried to respond. She just laughed and drove off, while I screamed after her, ‘wait, I don’t really sound like that.’”
Limebrook told his agent when he signed in early 2016 that he wanted to take acting lessons, “and Chris suggested that I also stick with improv because improv is acting when it’s done right.”
Looking to the future, Limebrook hopes to open an improv theatre in Oakhurst, where lessons are taught, improv teams are developed, and shows are performed.
Others who have honed their skills doing long form improv are Mike Myers (Austin Powers), most of the Saturday Night Live actors, and the late renowned comedian Robin Williams, who molded improv into his stand-up comedy act and movie career.
It’s anyone’s guess just how bright Limebrook’s star will shine as he works to merge his life in Oakhurst with his Hollywood dreams. In between his expert repair of squeaking brakes or a leaking transmission, you just might spot him in a summer blockbuster movie or in a recurring role on a television sitcom.
One thing’s certain. He’ll be talking a bit more while waiting in holding ... just in case he crosses paths with Halle again.