Why take an improv class?
First of all, one of the greatest weaknesses of inexperienced and sometimes even experienced actors is not listening to their fellow actors. They are waiting for their cue so they can say the line they’ve memorized along with the memorized delivery, and a lot of magic is lost by not listening. In improv we are forced to listen; it’s impossible to do improv without listening. Improvisation teaches us spontaneity and agility in our acting, and it makes us operate in the moment. I was told in one workshop I attended that improvisation is like walking backwards; you see where you’ve been, not where you’re going so you build on what’s been said and done rather than just quote lines and follow a script.
Is it just for improv folk, or can actors learn something from it?
When we see something that is real, it excites us; when we see something that is acted, we see through it and somehow don’t believe it. I believe improvisation exercises will often give the needed authenticity to a person’s portrayal of a role.
How did you get started?
Acting and theatre have always been in my blood. I first went on stage when I was five as ‘fourth bird’ to recite a four-line poem. I was the youngest and smallest and the audience roared when I did it, so I did it again. The audience roared again, but, alas, the teacher came and took me off when I started to do it a third time. I was stage struck, and that was that. From then on I always performed! At Baylor University my major was theatre arts. After college I was active in theatre over the years in various forms, experimental theatre, pantomime, street theatre, children’s theatre, conventional theatre, radio drama, voiceover, writing, directing, and later film and TV acting and coaching. I also formed a team of clowns for children’s edutainment shows called Clown Treasure that soon was in demand for all kind of events, both private and public.
What are they like-- what do you actually do in class?
That’s a hard one since I seldom teach any two classes exactly the same. I try though to spend as little time as possible giving lectures. I very much believe in learning by doing. In improvisation class, it is important to let the students know from the beginning that we are here to explore, not to deliver a performance. This is the safe space where they can try things, make mistakes and learn from them.
I often give them exercises that they have to dive into without thinking. ‘Bob, you’re a teen who just came home after having damaged Dad’s new car badly. You don’t want him to see it.’ ‘John, you’re a father who loaned his new car to Bob but is so excited about it, you can’t wait for Bob to get home so you can polish it up and take it for a spin. Go!’ This exercise is best if the two don’t know the other’s instruction. It makes it more real.
This sounds suspiciously like playing make-believe and we like it.
I always tell my students that if they are willing to become a child and play, then they can act. Acting awakens the child in each of us.
So who attends?
We’ve had a wide variety of people attending, professional people, teachers, professors, university and high school students, mothers, fathers, you name it. I love diversity. We’ve had people from Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, the USA, Canada, Qatar, Syria, Jordan, Libya, and maybe some I’m forgetting. It’s open to all.
Do you have to be a professional or have experience to attend?
No, all that’s required is interest. We can take it from there. Some will find they have a gift for it and others will have fun anyway. For some, it’s a fun pastime and others are more serious about doing something with their acting. But to begin with, no, no experience is required.
What’s fun about improv?
What’s fun is the immediacy, the fact that what you are seeing or performing has never been done just like this before and will never be again. It’s truly living in the moment and we find that moment is full and alive. And as a team works together and bonds, getting closer and more united, the improvisation they produce gets better and better, yet never loses its immediacy, but sometimes gets to where it’s as good as a scripted, rehearsed play. When that happens, you feel that you’re witnessing a miracle, like how can this be? I think at moments like that we are truly tapping into what Carl Jung called ‘the collective consciousness,’ it’s very uplifting.
What’s challenging about it?
The greatest challenge in improvisational acting to me is the same as diving off a high diving board. We have to take the plunge and trust that we are going to hit the water all right. I have heard over the years from many of my students that they were cured of their shyness by acting and especially improvising. I believe that cure comes from expanding their comfort zone and finding out it’s not only not painful to break out of it, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
What’s your favourite part of the classes?
I don’t know if I could say I have a favourite. Whenever my students are engaged, have forgotten themselves and are fully focused on the exercise to where they are really free and having fun, I’m happy. I don’t know about them, but it’s therapy for me. And when they are doing a monologue or an exercise and something new and fresh emerges or I see something clicks in them and they make some big step of progress, that’s very exciting for me. When I try something I’ve never tried before and the students love it, and it develops the skill we need, I love that too.
Classes start in September, with registration starting this month. Classes are held at Garvey’s European Club. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 6699 5321