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Saying ‘yes, and…’ to improv

Locations: News Published

By Gracyn Overstreet
Special to The Sopris Sun

Things you need to attend an improv class: an open mind. That’s it. That’s actually all you need.

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We gathered in the main theatre room. Nervousness pervaded as we went around the circle introducing ourselves and how exactly we wound up taking an improv workshop at Thunder River Theatre.

A few people had an appreciation for drama and theater, some had signed up after seeing the Consensual Improv show the week before, and others were still trying to figure out exactly why they were standing in a circle of strangers at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning.

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As we stood there in the circle, I had a certain realization, a moment of clarity if you will, it was perfectly contained in two thoughts: “Wait, I’m not funny” and “Oh no, what am I doing here?” I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the room chasing those thoughts around my head.

But as we would come to learn from our instructor and fearless leader of fun Cassidy Willey, improv is less about standing center stage and nailing the perfect punch line; it’s more about saying yes and going with the flow of whatever is happening around you — as strange and absurd as it may be. The humor is a byproduct.

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To start we warmed up with exercises that brought our attention into the present.

Some of the exercises, surprisingly, were silent with participants cooperating by using eye contact and gestures. In these warmups I had to focus in on the people around me and let go of any need to anticipate or control the outcome.

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When I would try to pre-anticipate what I would do when the exercise got to me, I stopped paying attention to what was happening around me the game would get away from me. In trying to be prepared I was suddenly out of the flow and unprepared. Just staying in the present moment and reacting without planning ahead was a challenge in itself.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one thing this workshop did was get me back in the habit of connecting with others. In one instance, we practiced walking, running and jumping but as a team, first by taking turns calling out commands and then with no one calling out commands.

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We just had to focus on reading the room and when someone would stop the chain reaction would unfurl, and within a few seconds we were all standing still. A mere nod of the head or locking eyes and we were jumping up and down as a group or racing around the room. We had to stay connected and we had to stay present. As a result, we were cohesive in a way rarely felt in day to day life with people who were just an hour or so ago complete strangers.

By practicing scene work, we were really practicing how to say yes to the scene we were creating around us. There is a concept in improv call “yes and…” The idea is that whatever your scene partner throws out into the scene you accept it and move the scene forward. When your scene partner contributes something and you say no to it, it essentially shuts the scene down and gives it nowhere to go.

So, are there suddenly flying monkeys in this scene? Sure. Are we teaching them how to cook omelets? You bet. Are the monkeys from England and now we’re all speaking in mediocre British accents? Naturally. This is improv, anything can happen, and it all fits together somehow.

If you are looking for a fun way to lighten up between work weeks, check out an improv class at the Thunder River Theatre Company. When else do you get to make things up with such conviction that others follow along?

If you’re interested in checking out improve but not ready to dive into a workshop, I highly recommend you go see a Consensual Improv show. There’s one coming up from 8 to 11 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 2 at Thunder River Theatre (67 Promenade).

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