Performers Archives | Monkey Business Institute

Behold! Sheila Robertson, Professional Fun Haver

Bringing Improv To the People

Sheila Robertson has been performing improv, making things up, and – in general – winging it professionally since the early 1990s. She fell in love with improv comedy at 14 years old after seeing ComedySportz perform in Madison, inspiring an urge to become an improv comedian herself. Sheila began honing the craft of ‘Yes, and…’ by performing, DJing, and MCing hundreds of shows all over country, including Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. At one point she was performing four shows a week. These days, she can be seen doing shows, teaching improv, conducting Playshops, and making up songs and musical comedy with Monkey Business Institute’s The Music Department. Sheila is also a founding member of the all female improv show Yes Ma’am and loves being a professional Fun Haver.

Improv training has influenced my life from a young age. I’ve been able to use the improvisational theme of ‘Yes, and…’ in relationships, business, adventures, and life. It allows me to create quick connections, be present and engaged in the moment, think big, take risks, think creatively, and be open to possibilities that I can’t imagine on my own. – Sheila

Through the years with Monkey Business Institute, Sheila has taught countless Playshops to small groups, large groups, small non-profits, large corporations, school-aged kids, grown ups, and even a bunch of rowdy librarians. “Teaching the basic concept of improv to beginners is one of my favorite things. I absolutely believe that if people adapt their life to include just a little bit of the concepts used by improvisers to put on a fun show, the world will be a better place.”

Outside the comedy world, Sheila is an accomplished sales professional, becoming a top salesperson in several different markets, from small local businesses to large national franchises. She credits her success to improv comedy, in particular the way it forces performers to be attentive listeners, as well as being open to the ideas your scene partner throws your way.

Sheila is ready with the perfect ice breaker for any meeting and hosts a Friday at 4pm Dance Party at her work.

Improving Communication With Improv Comedy

A Custom Playshop By Sheila Robertson

Sheila Robertson (who? Get hip on Sheila now!) recently developed and conducted a custom Playshop as part of the 10th Annual UW-Madison Women & Leadership Symposium. Along with her co-presenter, Jacy Whitehead, Sheila demonstrated the ways in which the same skills utilized by improv comedians can be used to benefit one’s personal and professional life.

The UW-Madison Women & Leadership Symposium was fantastic! My favorite part of the day was looking around at the large group sessions and seeing 550+ powerful female leaders in one place. The energy in the room was palpable with a high frequency of greatness. Everyone I encountered was kind, interesting, clever, smart and open. I feel very lucky to have participated in the day. – Sheila

A big thanks to Jacy Whitehead, UW-Madison’s Learning and Talent Development department, and to all who attended this event.

Interested in learning more about our Playshops? Our website has lots of information – click here to head to our Playshop page. Still have questions? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us via email at and let us know how MBI can teach valuable, lifelong skills to your team.

Renaissance/Freaking Hilarious Woman


In addition to being a Monkey Business Institute cast member, Vanessa Tortolano is a stand-up comic, an entrepreneur (she is a co-founder and co-owner of NessAlla Kombucha), a musician, a scholar of herbs and natural healing, and a badass mother. Hey, Vanessa – save some talent for the rest of us! Learn more about Vanessa below, including how she came to be a cast member, what it’s like doing stand-up and how it compares to improv, and projects in which she’s involved.

It all started with a little bit of kombucha.

A roving, rakish, rabble-rousing renegade reporter – Dylan Brogan –  was doing a story on the local food scene. He tried some booch. He loved the booch, gave Vanessa some tix to an upcoming MBI performance, and she fell in love, knowing that this is where she needed to be – on stage with a bunch of other weirdos, having a blast in front of an audience. A classic booch-for-improv-classes swap-a-roo took place and Vanessa became a troupe member in 2012. And it’s all thanks to the booch.

Performing and Hosting

Today, Vanessa performs with Yes Ma’am, the popular Improv Lab show featuring the Women of Monkey Business and hosts The Merge. The Merge is our stand-up/improv mashup and Vanessa is in charge of coordinating talent – scouting up and coming local and regional stand-up comics

New Adventures in Being Funny

Vanessa started doing stand-up about three years ago, which is still pretty fresh for stand-up comics. In that short amount of time, she’s found herself onstage in all sorts of venues, locally and other states. Including Lady Laughs Comedy Festival, Madison Comedy Week, State Street Comedy Club, and even some time on stage in New York City.

See Her Around Town

Follow Vanessa on Facebook and get updates on her shows:

Meet Marian, cast member since 2016 and regular performer at Yes Ma’am, MBI’s Improv Lab show of, for, and by women. Off stage, Marian is a teacher of teachable things, a writer of words, and a resolute believer in The Princess Bride being a true story. Learn more about Marian below, including how she came to be a cast member, her thoughts on improv comedy, and projects in which she’s involved.

How did you get involved with MBI?

Grad school ennui found me in pursuit of other talents. In 2013, I was teaching and working on my dissertation, but all the time spent working alone was sapping my motivation. Craving a change, I signed up for as many new extracurricular activities as I could find: pottery, planning a trip to Burning Man, telling off inconsiderate neighbors in my sleep, and MBI’s Level 1 class with John Steeno. Improv was the one that stuck (and is at least partially responsible for my finished dissertation, too).

What got you hooked on improv?

I find that improv challenges me in an area completely separate from work and career. I love collaborating with other people and coming up with weird, funny stories together. Improv’s my emotional cardio –– it works out and stretches my emotional skills and muscles. I do it for those magical moments on stage where everything comes together and the audience is with you and the room erupts in pure joy.

Why is improv important to you?

I’m drawn to improv for how it is therapeutic and transformational, for the audience and for those of us who perform, both because it can be laughter-inducing, and because it is boundary-pushing and forces us to explore our own limits. I also think it can be culturally and socially transformative! Personally, improv gives me an outlet to be creative and make beautiful things in a challenging world.

What is one principle of improv that has affected your life?

Being fearless, making bold choices, and committing unapologetically. Doing so leads to the most joy in improv, and it’s pretty hard to do good improv without it. In life, trusting and believing that bringing the most honest, fearless, and committed version of myself is always going to be the best received, and is always worth it, has pushed me to to act boldly and from my intuition––to take risks I wouldn’t otherwise take. And that’s had a hugely positive impact on my life!

What gives you a sense of pride?

Writing, teaching, and thinking about literature and culture. My most formative performances have been in the classroom, where I’ve refereed conversations on monsters in literature, heroines in ancient Greece, storytellers in West Africa, gender in advertising, fantasy in science fiction, and race in America. I care immensely about people, I’m insatiably curious, and I love anything that is beautiful, expressive, or creative.

Wanna plug any projects?

I just finished a PhD from UW-Madison’s Department of Comparative Literature, studying social movements, literature, music, and visual culture in the U.S., Latin America, and Israel. In 2017 I was part of the cast of Queer Shorts! I’ve also written some fiction and some comedy sketches.

You kind find out more about my work by visiting

Join Monkey BusinessWould you like to be the next Monkey Business star? If you’ve taken our classes (or are taking them), have improv experience in another city/organization, or simply dream of becoming a professional improv performer—drop us a line below! In the coming months, we’re looking to expand our company!