He performs on the stage and in Battlefield 3; he’s both a teacher and a father of 2; he’s an American actor in Stockholm. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Joshua Lenn, our extraordinary expat this month.
Actually as a child in San Francisco, Josh didn’t want to be an actor, but another A-word: athlete. He confesses that he was a ‘sports fanatic, loving basketball, baseball and American football.’ Basketball was his favoured choice, but as he puts it ‘my coach said ‘you’re a 5’2’’ Jewish boy – you’re not going to make it in basketball, kid’. From the dream of being a sportsman came the dream of being a sports journalist; from there to acting was just a step. After completing a degree in sociology at UCLA, Josh started taking performance classes in earnest. It was mainly scripted theatre, but even then, it was the improvisation (improv) teachers who made an impression on Josh.
Improv changed my life, since it enabled me to find that place of joy that children find easily, but is often lost as an adult. It’s a portal into the moment, where you can access your true self. It was a way of therapy for myself; life is easier if you laugh and embrace it. And since everyone has a great improviser inside them, it makes you feel successful too.
He took up lots of different jobs, not least of which was an advert for the San Francisco 49ers (an American football team) where he realised part of his youthful dream by getting to be in Candlestick Park with major sporting heroes. He even managed to beat some of those stars when he took part in a reality show called Pros vs. Joes, where members of the public compete with sports celebrities to win $20,000. Josh took on Dennis Rodman, basketball player, at shooting. Josh won.
There was time for travel and love too. In fact, there was time for both at the same time. In the year 2000, Josh met a beautiful Swede, Maria, whilst backpacking in Vietnam for, I quote, ‘one hot steamy night. She was going on to China and I was going off to Laos. But we kept in touch by email; there was no Skype then.’ They arranged to meet 9 months later in Mexico and it was love at second sight. Josh threw over his job and moved to Sweden. An appropriately Hollywood ending.
But of course life doesn’t end with the picture of the couple kissing madly at the airport. Josh ran out of money in 5 months (which is a lot of money in Sweden; if they’d stayed in Mexico, they’d probably still be there now) and they decided to move to America. It was Maria who first had to deal with culture-shock, whilst also getting her degree and having their first child. The latter made the couple think about leaving for Sweden again: not only is it a wonderful place to raise children, but it was hard being away from maternal grandparents. Josh himself resisted coming to Sweden for a while; he went to a therapist and came over for a few trips; it was important for him to find his own reasons for moving, so that he would be in a positive mindset about his adopted country. After 6.5 years of living in the States, he felt he wanted a new challenge; home was too comfortable.
Josh volunteered to do basketball coaching when he first came to Sweden; he found himself uttering the immortal lines, ‘do you guys want to win the game? Or do you just want to fika?’
And so, Stockholm in 2009. He went through the honeymoon phase and the high-highs and low-lows of being in a new country. One of the difficulties was around the different work-ethic. Josh volunteered to do basketball coaching when he first came to Sweden; he found himself uttering the immortal lines, ‘do you guys want to win the game? Or do you just want to fika?’
Josh was in demand work-wise, becoming the voice of Ingham in the video games, Battlefield II and Battlefield III (he wasn’t here for the first one), working with the Swedish Royal Ballet and acting in commercials. But the ‘high’ that changed Josh’s life and made Sweden ‘home’ was the discovery of an improv festival a couple of months after he moved; one of those moments when fate seems to be giving you a little nudge. He found that improv ‘translates’, since the spirit and fundamentals are the same. He joined the company who was performing, and started his own improv classes in English; the love of acting became a love of teaching and coaching, which provided a new fulfillment.
Perhaps we need improv even more as expats (it certainly made my own transition to Sweden easier), since the fundamental tenet of improv is to say not just ‘yes’ but ‘yes and…’. ‘Yes’ builds energy, whilst ‘no’ sucks it up. The people who take my class and have developed ‘yes’ muscles in the same forum have built up an energy together; they often become friends for life. That’s also because improv is a team sport, as opposed to stand-up comedy. You need everyone to look good for yourself to look good, so you take care of each other and in that way, take care of yourself.
The feedback from Josh’s courses is overwhelmingly positive; people love improv when they try it. It is, in fact, addictive; there are people who have come to Josh for the sixth time, a testimonial to the art, but surely also to Josh himself. Due to the demand, Josh set up his own business, offering highly interactive workshops and coaching for companies: www.stellarperformance.se
Aside from the classes, Josh also acts in his own shows, including the runaway success, ‘Lost in Translation’, an English improv act about being in Sweden, full of humour about cultural codes and differences. And there’s more exciting news on the horizon. Josh is co-directing a new show in English, Action Impro 2, premiering on March 2nd, which takes improvisation to new, physical heights.They will perform a completely improvised action movie based on audience suggestion, with Swedish stunt groups to help with challenge of improvising stage fighting. You can book tickets to both shows here. And there are more acting opportunities on the horizon (Josh will be appearing in two new video games, but they are top-secret as yet).
When you think of what has happened since moving to Stockholm: a new addition to the family, sell-out shows, sell-out classes, a new company, TV, video games, improv festivals… the mind boggles; can one person really do all this? In the spirit of improv: Yes. Yes and… we can too. Thanks for the inspiration, Josh.
If you liked this article, you may also like reading about our other ‘Extraordinary Expats‘. It’s always great to read about people doing well in Stockholm!
Article: Farrah Gillani