Sunday, February 15, 2004

Serious Improv (1 of 3)

Was talking with a friend who is taking an improv comedy class, and it brought back a memory.

For two summers in High School, I took part in a local Teenage Drama Workshop -- we'd take a bunch of classes (in different areas of theatre and performance) and put on Children's Theatre plays for local kids. It was great.

One of my classes was in improvisation. We played all sorts of improv comedy games, like the things you see on "Whose Line," but one day, our teacher decided to try something different. He put four students on the stage and told them to act -- but to not go for the funny. He wanted a serious improv, with a beginning, middle and end.

The teacher called a group of students up, and I realized the first three students he picked were genuinely good. In improv, I'm about as good as the people around me -- I can rise to the challenge if my partners are good, but I can't bring up a loser. So when I saw how this group was forming, I quickly volunteered to be a part of it.

One of the girls in our group was named, er, let's call her Shawna Stanley.

We were not given any time to prepare -- we were just put on the stage. We sorta sat around in non-committal poses, and then one of the guys (we'll call him Guy), came up with a first line of, "Shawna Stanley? Is that you?"

OK, fine, I think. We're someplace where we're strangers, where you don't expect to run into someone you know. Got it.

Shawna moans in response. Interesting. Shawna's character, it appears, is not entirely with it.

So far, only Shawna and Guy are really in the scene. I enter. I'm playing a child, trying to get attention from Shawna.

I am misinterpreted by my scene-mates. I assumed my character was a child; they believe my character is a teenager or young adult who has somehow reverted to child-like behavior. OK, theatre is all give-and-take. I can deal.

The fourth guy, Matt, comes in, and displays what can politely be described as an Anger Management Issue.

At this point, the improv has found itself a location. The four of us are in a mental institution, with Guy taking on the Jack Nicholson role. Once we know who we are, where we are, and what we're trying to accomplish, the improv starts to fly.

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