Saturday, January 27, 2018

Improv: Going from Vidalia Onions to Vampires in 60 Seconds or Less

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By: Lime Green Giraffe Photography Editor, Meghan K. 

As a theatre kid, my life is filled with bizarre moments. In rehearsals, my director has asked me if I would be cool being carried across the stage over a fellow actor’s shoulders and one time, I nearly fell into another cast member’s lap while wearing high heels. At an audition, I made a friend simply because he was reciting a monologue from a show that I knew. I almost fell asleep in a plateful of pancakes at IHOP at Midnight after a show. I have so many strange stories and anecdotes in my brain that it’s nearly impossible to remember them all. But I think the weirdest—and funniest—moment come from my improv class. 
Improv is short for improvising, and it’s exactly what it says on the tin; improv performances are made up on the spot instead of being rehearsed beforehand like a regular play. They require a certain amount of audience participation; the performers will ask the audience a question or series of questions, and then select three or four responses that they then craft into a scene. The scene can be very serious and emotional, improv is more often than not comedic—the scenes that arise from audience members’ suggestions are often so out of left field that you can’t help but laugh, especially if the performers are deadly serious about the things they’re saying and doing. 
I got involved in improv back in 2016, while I was working on an extremely tough play. We were rehearsing five days a week for a solid three or four hours at a time, struggling through choreography and vocal harmonies that seemed nearly impossible, taking as few breaks as possible so that we’d be ready to perform in two months’ time. Most of my free time was spent either trying to finish all of my schoolwork and eat dinner two hours earlier than normal or trying to learn all my harmonies and lines—every single member of the cast was starting to wear thin, we were working so hard. 
And then one night, we came to the studio, but we weren’t there to rehearse; instead, our director had asked one of the improv directors to come teach a workshop for us. 
I’d braced myself for a rough night—as someone who doesn’t think on her feet very well, how was I supposed to be good at an art that was entirely based upon flying by the seat of my pants? Would I freeze up and panic, or react too slowly and ruin the scene, or…totally love it? 
One scene, one conversation, one single solitary minute, that’s all I needed. It was a pretty odd, tangential conversation—I think it started out with either vampires or hats, led to sunscreen, and then returned to vampires/hats—but from that moment forward, I was hooked. So the instant I found out that the same director was going to be teaching an improv class right after my show was over, I signed up so that I could keep exploring. I also got the chance to watch my theatre group’s improv troupe rehearsing for their upcoming performance—improv rehearsals look less like your average theatre rehearsal and more like performing without an audience—but they taught me a lot of valuable lessons about letting my hair down and trusting my scene partner to pick up where I leave off. I even got to be a part of an improv performance on the back patio of a café with my classmates and the troupe. 
Improv definitely forces you out of your comfort zone. You have to be comfortable being completely, honestly absurd in front of strangers; you have to trust your partner not to leave you hanging and to keep the scene going; you have to place yourself at the mercy of your audience and their suggestions; and you have to let yourself be spontaneous, following the scene wherever it goes—there’s no script to keep you on track or catch you if you stumble. I think that’s why I love it so much: it’s never the same twice, which means I have to be on my toes the whole time. Sure, it’s absolutely terrifying being at the whims of the audience and your scene partner, and I’ve had more than my fair share of awkward moments, but even the scenes where I’ve stood there and stared at my scene partner at a complete loss for words have made people laugh. And in the end, that’s what improv is about; making people smile. 

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