Thomas Lapen

actor, comedian & improviser

My name is Thomas Lapen, I am a French actor, comedian, improviser and writer, born and raised in a small town on the outskirts of Paris. I am also a qualified teacher of French as a foreign language (FFL).

After a few years teaching French at the Alliance française in Mexico and then in Japan, I went back to Paris to train as an actor. I went to a professional acting school, Acting International, where I studied a variety of techniques and discovered improvisation. This is how I decided to go further into that discipline and started taking classes at the Impro Academy. I also studied mime with Ivan Bacciocchi at the École Internationale de Mime Corporel Dramatique and did various clowning workshops with Ira Seidenstein.

After my training, I did a lot of improv shows (for fun) and one step at a time, I started working as an actor, mainly in the theatre. I have been working at the Opéra national de Paris for several years, in various productions, and I have had roles in several plays. I have also written, created and performed two shows of my own: one is a solo called Amphigouri and the other one is a duet called Les Gens.


What I like to do is to start with the individual and what is already there, their strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, I try to reinforce what they are already doing well, to encourage and develop their creativity, make them aware of everything they are bringing to the table; on the other hand, I try to make them work on their bad habits or the skills that they need to grow as actors and improvisers. 

 It is a way to accompany the artists in their development rather than try to “force-feed” them some kind of knowledge that does not apply to them. The tendencies I spot in one individual are often relevant to others in the group too, so I think it is a good way to proceed. I also like to work on basic acting skills because one must not forget that if you are on stage, whether it is improvised or not, you are an actor/actress. Physicality is essential: you have to know what to do with your body and your voice, how to move, when to move or stand still, be aware of your surroundings...

Can you share an unforgettable moment during an improv show? 

As an audience member I saw a lot of unbelievable moments, but if you mean a show that I was in, I remember a scene that I did with my friend and colleague Michelle, from Québec… Michelle and I had done several clowning workshops with Ira Seidenstein, whose method focuses on starting with the body, so Michelle and I had the same approach to improvisation and we were on the same page… It was so lovely improvising with her because everything was so smooth and organic. We were not “in our head” trying to come up with something, we were like two kids playing, everything felt fun and natural. To me, this is what improv should be.

Your favorite Improve quote?

You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.

Robin Williams


What I love about improvisation is the total freedom that it gives you on stage as an actor. When you do a written play, you may sometimes feel stuck by the lines you have to say or the staging and indications given by the director. With improvisation, you have the power to do whatever you want, everything is in your hands and you can let your creativity come to life with no constraint. Of course that can also be overwhelming and you may feel stuck because of that freedom. However, when you manage to trust yourself, reach your inner “genius” and let your creativity express itself organically, everything falls into place and the magic happens. It is an amazing feeling, it is exhilarating.

The other aspect of improvisation is that you are not alone. You are building with your fellow improvisers and it is that spark between you and your partners that creates the beauty of improvisation. You also know, at all times, that whatever you do, you will have backup from your partners: whether you are going down in flames or whether you are doing just fine, they will be there. You are all in this together.

Also, the nature of improvisation implies that at some point, you are bound to screw up, and I think that it is what keeps it light and playful. It has to be. There is an unspoken agreement between the people on stage and the audience that, at some point, things will go to shit, and that’s OK. That is what makes it fun. Not only do we welcome that certainty, but we embrace it and somehow, the audience expects that moment. They want to see how the improvisers manage to get out of the hole they dug for themselves and they enjoy it. The essence of improvisation is not to avoid failure, but to find out what you create out of it.

Finally, it is incredible how all the principles of improvisation can, and should, be applied in life in general: how to be positive, accepting, how to listen and react, how to trust yourself and your partners, how to stop judging yourself, how to take risks and how to be able to read and use the body language… These skills are very powerful.

Impro Academy Paris