When Andrew Phung started volunteering at the Loose Moose Theatre Company at the age of 16, there was no way he could have known how that experience would change his life. Along with the duties of scooping popcorn and ripping tickets came free improvisation lessons and a chance to get on stage. He has been performing one to five times a week ever since then.
“Improv has opened doors for me,” Phung says. “It has made me a fearless individual and has taught me to be adaptable.”
And he is passing along that message — don’t be afraid; be open to every opportunity — to the youth he works with at Child and Youth Friendly Calgary (CYFC). Before his current director stint with CYFC, he managed the Calgary Sports and Social Club, and before that was a youth programmer for the City of Calgary.
Phung is all about mentoring young people and helping them accomplish their personal and professional goals. At CYFC, he supervises a full-time staff of eight, brainstorms and creates youth-oriented programming and then finds the money to bring these ideas to fruition.
For example, a year ago, Phung heard a couple of the teens at CYFC complaining about how ugly and dated city bus passes looked. So Phung and a few CYFC colleagues approached Calgary Transit and the Calgary Board of Education and came up with the Bus Pass Project, in which youth created designs to be put on the passes — Phung’s favourites are future-themed, with spacecrafts and robots — and submitted them to the City for review. Sixteen of the entries were selected and were rolled out as passes this fall.
Phung’s work with youth has gained enough notice that, in 2006, the City selected him to facilitate a five-hour forum between Calgary youth and Governor General Michaëlle Jean. “I find that every now and then the world puts really cool things in my lap,” says Phung. “[Jean] is one of those people that you can’t help but smile around. You want to hug her.”
Next up on Phung’s journey might be a return to school to complete his MBA. Or he might go into television; he is working on a pilot for a show where comedians create funny side stories from movie trailers.
“The network liked it, so we are on to the next phase,” he says a bit cagily.
But one thing that will remain a constant is passing along what he has learned to young people still finding their way.
“I used to think that success was cars and girls,” Phung says. “Now I know it is loving what you do, loving where you are.”
Why he’s the top: When Andrew Phung started doing improvisation with Loose Moose Theatre, he avoided fully getting into character, thinking he might make a fool of himself. But by holding back, he actually became the odd man out. Lesson learned: on stage and in life, he goes after it full bore.
The key to his success: Staring down what scares him. “You’re the only person holding you back,” he says.