Open Forum in The Villages, Florida

Embracing the Unexpected: Norma Robinson's Journey to Improv

July 14, 2023 Mike Roth & Norma Robinson Season 4 Episode 2
Open Forum in The Villages, Florida
Embracing the Unexpected: Norma Robinson's Journey to Improv
Open Forum in The Villages, Florida
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Can you imagine going from a biochemistry major to a successful salesperson and then diving into the world of improv? Join us this week as we chat with the incredible Norma Robinson, who shares her fascinating career journey and how it led her to the Villages. Discover how she transitioned from teaching to sales, faced her mother's fears, and now embraces her love for laughter and improvisational theater.

In our conversation, we explore the foundational rules of improv and how they can be applied to everyday situations, such as customer service calls. Norma opens up about her favorite improv scene, her most embarrassing moment on stage, and the importance of accepting and learning from each other, regardless of circumstances. Don't miss out on this entertaining and insightful episode with Norma Robinson!

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Open Forum in The Villages, Florida is Produced & Directed by Mike Roth
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Announcer - Zoey: Welcome to the Open Forum in The Villages Florida podcast.  In this show we are going to talk to leaders in the community, leaders of clubs and interesting folks who live here in  The Villages to give perspectives of what is happening here in  The Villages. We hope to add a new episode most Fridays at 9am. We have converted all of our shows to Buzzsprout. Of course, you can still listen to Apple Podcast, amazon Music and about 20 other podcast platforms. Your favorite podcast player will still work. We are now a listener supported podcast. You can become a supporter for only $3 or you can choose to pay more per month. Go to openforminthevillages,com and click on support in the black box. There will be a shout out for supporters in episodes. This is a shout out to supporters. Tweet Coleman, Dan Kapellan, Ed Williams, Alvin Stenzel and Major supporter Doctor Craig Curtis at K2 in  The Villages. We will be hearing more from Doctor Curtis with short Alzheimer's tips each week. 
 Mike Roth: This is Mike Roth and Norma Robinson. Norma, thanks for joining us. 
 Norma Robinson: Oh, thank you for asking. 
 Mike Roth: Before we get into talking about what you're doing here in  The Villages, why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about what you did before you moved to  The Villages? 
 Norma Robinson: Before I moved here, I went to college in Cheney, Pennsylvania. That's a suburb right outside of Philadelphia. 
 Mike Roth: Most people don't know Cheney, me included. 
 Norma Robinson: Yeah, but our sister school was Westchester State College, so most people know where that is in Westchester, Pennsylvania. 
 Mike Roth: Westchester is in New York, that's true. 
 Norma Robinson: That's true, but I majored in biochem. My intent was to be a doctor, and then three quarters of the way I decided that that was a little bit too much more studying. So I decided to just continue on with the courses and graduate with the degree and make sure that I had at least something behind me. But it was in secondary education too. So I did secondary ed And then I had an opportunity to get a master's degree in special education, which I did from Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
 Mike Roth: Well, that's when I proved. 
 Norma Robinson: Okay And I got the master's degree And at that time I came from a history of teachers so it was natural that you were going to fall right into that. I didn't want to teach but I fell into it because the lady where I did my practicum she said she was leaving and I would fill her shoes really well. So I did that And after a couple of years I said this isn't me. And I resigned and didn't tell my mother, because at that time you just didn't say that you quit a job. And I went to every morning I'd go out to a different headhunter And one of the headhunters said to me have you thought about sales? And I said no, but it's a good time to think about it because my mother thinks I'm working and I'm not and I got to get something. So I went into sales with Xerox and they were one of the best trainers ever. So I did Xerox for about three or four years, did well in sales. 
 Mike Roth: So did they send you out to their training center in McLean Virginia. 
 Norma Robinson: Yeah, it's in Virginia, I forget exactly where, but you're right, and that's the best training ever for a salesperson. So I went there and then, about three or four years into it, xerox had a promotion and the promotion was give copiers. It was the first time that the color copier came out, thirty-one hundred, and you put it in offices, whether or not they wanted a copy or not, hoping that they would stick. Two years in a row I put a copier into a gentleman's office. He was starting his headhunter business and I felt sorry for him. So he I said make all the copies that you can. 
 Norma Robinson: And the third year xerox came to me and said don't put a copier in that guy's office because he's not buying anything. He came to me that year and he said I have a fantastic company for you to look into and the name of it is amp star. I don't know amp star from a hole in the ground. Um, it's domino sugar. So I said you want me to sell five pound bags of sugar? he said no, I want you to do rail cars and tankers. I said what's a real car? what's a tanker? and then he finally said to me New York. And I said I’m your woman. That's it. I was living in amber in Pennsylvania, another suburb of Philadelphia and this job would force you to move to madden no, uh, I the. 
 Norma Robinson: The territory was 13 states and Canada. So I traveled and had a company car and a nice expense account and I was excited about the headquarters was in new york, so let's say every two weeks I would go in and then just travel the territory from there. I said, well, this isn't enough, let's let's look and see what the United States has to offer. And I did the united states with another company in sales and this was my forte and I just truly enjoyed my career what were you selling there? 
 Norma Robinson: I sold rail cars and tankers of cocoa powder and to the Bisco and Keebler and Kellogg and everybody that would buy cocoa powder in the United States. I traveled. It was wonderful. My mother made a comment to me about starving. You're going to starve if you go into sales. So I literally sat in my car in Philadelphia in center city and the idea was to check off park starving and not starving. Everybody that passed me by now the the premise might have been wrong, but you had to have an attaché case and wear a suit. That, to me, was sales. And I had a column starving and not starving. And I said nobody looked like they were starving, even if they were. So I brought the report back home to my mother and I said this is for me. 
 Mike Roth: I'm gonna do this okay, so how many years were you in sales? 
 Norma Robinson: total of 46 years, 46 years in sales. And I tell people you are a salesperson every day of your life. Every step you take, you are a sales person, right? what it takes is you have to listen to people and listen to what they want not what you want to give them, but what they want and you will be your. 
 Mike Roth: Everybody is a salesperson every day of their life right, right, I was a salesperson too and I got promoted many times when I had my own company in California and Reagan had his uh turned stall was program and then they turned it off. My company was busy going bankrupt and I got involved with David Sandler and the Sandler training program and for less 25 years I ran a Sandler franchise in uh Cincinnati okay and told all kinds of people sales, all kinds of strange occupations, from undertakers to politicians, and there were quite a few similarities. 
 Mike Roth: But I like to put it to every one of my shows, Norma, a little joke for my grandson evan. So, Norma, here's a question for you. What did the policemen say to his hungry stomach? 
 Norma Robinson: hmm, what did the policemen say to his hungry stomach? 
 Mike Roth: “Freeze, you're under-a-vest” 

Norma: Here in  The Villages, I guess I met you when you came to the improvisational theater club that's correct. Okay, why did you come to improvisational theater after being in sales? 
 Norma Robinson: we actually wandered in the recreation center and I saw a group of people going in there and they said, well, this is improv oh really this is something that i've always wanted to do. I think when I came out of the, when I came out of the womb, my mother said the expression on my face was to the doctor I dare you to hit me I was born in an elevator came out crying and she said your facial expression said it all and he said i'm i'm not going to touch her, I’m not going to touch her. 
 Mike Roth: So I knew that the facial expressions where they are for me And I'm telling you, they can't see you, but Norma is one of our best, if not the best, on facial expressions. 
 Norma Robinson: Thank you. 
 Mike Roth: You'll see her picture on the improv website. 
 Norma Robinson: Thank you, but I knew that comedy you have to laugh. You have to laugh Regardless of your circumstances, regardless of what happens. A chuckle is always good for you internally And then when people hear you chuckle, they'll laugh It gets infectious, doesn't it? 
 Norma Robinson: It's infectious, it really is. I was in the Miss Philadelphia pageant in 1972 when I was a semifinalist in that venture And one of the things was while we were rehearsing I made the judges laugh. I can't take this too seriously. I knew I was going to get I might not win, but if I did win I'd still make you laugh. But I did get a wardrobe once a month from John Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia. Once a month we could go there and shop because I was a semifinalist. But I didn't make them laugh and I've always wanted to make people laugh. 
 Mike Roth: Okay, you do a great job of it at improv. Thank you. This is Mike Roth and Dr Greg Curtis. We're talking about Alzheimer's disease. Dr Curtis, how important is it for people to keep their brain sharp? 
 Dr. Curtis: It's extremely important. So we all lose a little bit of our cognitive abilities as we age. Everyone's brain starts shrinking in our 50s. However, we can still maintain good cognitive health into old age by making a few good daily choices, including keeping your brain active crossword puzzles, sudoku. just getting out and socializing is good for the brain Good. 
 Announcer: With over 20 years of experience studying brain health, Dr Curtis's goal is to educate the village's community on how to live a longer, healthier life. To learn more, visit his website,, or call 352-500-5252.”

Mike Roth: When I was working with David Sandler, he always used to say “sales is a Broadway play performed by a psychiatrist”. He would follow up by saying everyone should take acting classes and improv classes. Well, as I was busy running a business and then delivering the training that I'd sold and working with my clients, I didn't have time. So when I got down here to  The Villages I immediately enrolled in five acting classes and the only improv club I could find in  The Villages and discovered that I hated learning lines and improv was a lot easier, and I want to thank you for joining the improv club.
 Mike Roth: The improv club is open to anyone who wants to have fun. For those people who are highly inhibited and want to be audience members, we allow up to 20 people per session to sit in the back as an audience member, but we always invite the audience members up to participate. We have fun, we laugh and at the end of two hours everyone's had a good time. We meet the first four Mondays of the month at Rohan from 6.30 to 8.20. And afterwards we go out and have a couple of adult beverages or food at Piesanos. So it's kind of a social club as well, I think, and that's really helped. 
Norma Robinson: I would encourage people to come out and do just that Participate if you like, and, if you don't, sit back and enjoy and laugh. And that's one of the things that you get to be the personality that you would like to be temporarily and just express yourself because improv. Like you, I didn't want to memorize a script. I wanted to come in and just be and just react to the moment. And that gives you the chance to do just that Is react to the moment, support the person that you're, your partner, and just be whatever it is in your personality that you want and say what you want, as long as it's in good taste. 
Mike Roth: Right, right. And then the other child's job was with the boroughs corporation and they gave me a script to sell a mechanical or electric heating machine. We're supposed to memorize it. In fact they tested us on it. I memorized it but didn't use it, and I discovered I was outselling almost everyone else in the branch, so scripts weren't for me. 
Norma Robinson: No, scripts are not for me either. 
Mike Roth: Okay, Norma, what's the part of improv that you enjoy the most? 
Norma Robinson: The part that I enjoy the most is getting to work with other amateur people that are funnier than me, because I learned from them, and that's the important thing for me is to walk away and learn something. That evening There was a member of our club who passed away and his advice to me every time he came was keep him laughing, just keep him laughing. 
Mike Roth: Was that David Wiley? That? 
Norma Robinson: was David Wiley and. I never forgot that and I always keep him in the back of my mind. And if I don't have a laugh right away, then I'll have a facial expression that'll make you laugh. 
Mike Roth: So in improv, the, the laughter can come from the actual words that the actors or actresses say, but it also comes from the physicality, and that includes facial expressions, in fact, my favorite exercise in it. We have exercises and games every Monday and the games are fun. But the newest exercise that we're going to be adding is walking and talking. In this exercise, players are not allowed to speak unless they're physically moving. This will prevent the talking head syndrome. 
Norma Robinson: Correct, it does. 
Mike Roth: But it also allows the actors to think and come up with unusual things. The in improv we, especially for newcomers, we like to emphasize the three foundational rules of improv. 
Norma Robinson: First one is say the first thing, say the first thing that comes to your mind. 
Mike Roth: Right and the second one is support your partner. 
Norma Robinson: Okay, and by that you say yes and right. 
Mike Roth: Accept all offers. 
Norma Robinson: Accept all offers. Yes. 
Mike Roth: And the third rule is always make your scene partner look good. Don't ask them a question which is going to put them on the spot. Instead, use statements, instead use partial sentences, but avoid questions, because that will put your scene partner into a difficult position and then, when they answer your question, they may throw you hardball or screwball back that you're not ready to handle. So we try to stay in the moment and stay in the same scene, and there are hundreds of scene types that we that we work with Norma, some people and we talked about David Wiley. He came to improv using a walker, but he wasn't the only one that came in a walker. We had another player and we had we have a brought a show at least two shows a year in one of the auditoriums Rohan or Ezell or Everglades and we had a show where both of the players if walkers were on stage. It forced me to learn how to work the key operated elevator to get them on the stage and off the stage as well. But we like to have fun. 
Norma Robinson: Yeah, and you also learn that the world does not revolve around you. You happen to be a piece of it and can contribute, but it doesn't revolve around you. That's the one thing I loved about traveling, too, and that's the one thing that I learned about improv and, like you said, with David being in a walker, a wheelchair, it didn't revolve around him being in a wheelchair, and he never made it so, and I knew that it didn't revolve around me as well. We could learn from each other, regardless of the circumstance. 
Mike Roth: Right, right, and David was always the first to volunteer If I said I need two volunteers raise your hands and David's hand was up even before I finished the words. He liked to get into the scenes and take easy roles and difficult roles. Norma, what? what is your favorite improv scene that you've been in? 
Norma Robinson: My favorite improv scene is good, bad and ugly. This is where you take three actors and a situation or a hypothetical situation from the audience. Let's say how to handle your girlfriend. 
Mike Roth: Right, we ask for advice from the audience, right, okay. 
Norma Robinson: And each of the actors are assigned. One gives good advice on how to handle the problem, one gives bad advice and the other one gives ugly advice. This is my favorite because I find myself people oh well, you need to pamper her, you need to do this, do that, that's the good advice. Then get rid of her, that's the bad advice. And then somebody has even worse advice than that Ugly advice, and that that just turns out to be a very funny piece, and that's my favorite one. 
Mike Roth: Yep the fame. My favorite version of that happened at the. The improv club does performances for other social clubs as the entertainment for the month, and a woman in the audience in that scene said as something she wanted advice about should I get a Brazilian? 
Norma Robinson: Yeah. 
Mike Roth: That was terribly funny and the good advice was make sure he's young and probably from Brazil. 
Norma Robinson: Brazil.  And it got funnier from there. 
Mike Roth: we can't go into the rest of the details. My favorite scene that we've developed is a six, five or six player scene called the customer service department, where we take from the audience a product or a service that they need help on And then one of our players takes the part of the person calling in and we have six players that the person gets transferred to and it gets terribly funny. 
Norma Robinson: This is so real and it just becomes funnier as you go down the line. All of us have called, let's say, the cable company or this or that, to try and straighten out an issue, and you get to a point where how many people am I going to talk to before this issue is solved? 
Mike Roth: Right, right. The second person gets on the phone and I'm not going to go through what everyone said And he says thank you for calling Macy's Dial. One for English press, two for Spanish press, three for American Sign Language. 
Norma Robinson: This is true. It is a funny, that is a funny thing, it's a funny bit, it's a funny bit. 
Mike Roth: And everyone who does it has fun. We like to follow the scene types that you might see. On whose line is it anyway, and if you're familiar with that show you probably have some knowledge of the outline of what we're going to do in a number of scenes. But you never know. Each time you do the same scene you get a different response from the audience that goes into the scene and we get a blended new scene, which usually is funny. The last time we did it, don't mind, I said anything that happened in improv that got you embarrassed. 
Norma Robinson: Not particularly embarrassed, Just yeah, I would say that I did a scene where you had to take on another personality, and I took on the personality of a baby and I got down on the floor like a baby, a spoiled baby, and the parents were going to leave to go somewhere and I didn't want them to go And I no, don't go, don't go, please don't go. And the next thing was I found myself I couldn't get up and everybody thought, oh gosh, this scene is fantastic, It's like she's doing. I said, no, I really can't get up. And then the guys came over and helped me up out the floor. But I think that's the last time I got on the floor to do a scene, but that's where it was true. I really couldn't get up. 
Mike Roth: Yeah, one of the other clubs that we did. we did the customer service scene and the person in the audience said you have a vacuum cleaner that you want to return. And Larry Rodkin, who was playing the part of the customer. he said he gets on the phone to the first customer service agent and he says I got a vacuum cleaner that won't suck Again it gives you the opportunity to say what's on your mind, and the punch line, or the tag line, is really funny. 
Mike Roth: Right, And that scene got funnier and funnier and funnier. It also got more R rated, but if you listen to it carefully it was a perfectly PG rated scene. It was the audience's minds that went crazy. That's why it was funny. The improv club again meets on the first four Mondays of the month at Rohan, 6.30 to 8.20. Norma, is there anything else you would like to tell our listeners about improv? 
Norma Robinson: We got a great director. Got a great we have more than one director More than one director, but both are great. And then either the actors can certainly come in and offer their advice and the director takes into play what their comments are. So you'll be respected, you'll be laughed at, you'll be funny and we've got great leadership. Let's put it that way. 
Mike Roth: Yeah, and we're always looking for new players, both inexperienced novices and people who have had improv experience. They all fit in. Our next public show is on November 7th. I believe that's going to be at Ezell. Might be wrong about that, but you'll have to check the club website, which is We're listed in the recreational news as either Improvisational Theater or  The Villages Improv Club. 
Norma Robinson: Norma, anything else you want to say in closing? No, that's it In closing. thank you for, like I said, I thank the leadership and them paying attention to what we need, what they need and keeping the audience and everybody laughing. 
Mike Roth: It's all about having fun and relaxing. Hopefully we'll see you at a improv meeting. 
Norma Robinson: Thank you. Mike. 
Mike Roth: Thank you for being with us, Norma. 
Announcer - Zoey: And for our next episode will be released next Friday at 9 am. Should you want to become a major supporter of the show or have questions, please contact us at If you know someone who should be on the show, contact us at We thank everyone for listening to the show. The content of the show is copyrighted by Roth Voice 2023. All rights reserved. 


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