If you’re into commercial acting at all you’ve probably been told to take an improv class. It is solid advice.
As an alumni from several improv schools, I think it’s great for every type of actor(ess) because it teaches you to stay in the moment and really listen.
When my kids are playing pretend I find myself eavesdropping to see if they are following improv’s Golden Rule.
Prior to their foray into improv classes I noticed that there was a lot of negating each other’s ideas. More of a…
Like, I don’t like your idea and actually this – completely different thing – is what’s happening. Usually, these pretending sessions ended up with an argument and sometimes tears.
“Mom! He killed my little pony and won’t let her come back to life!”
For some reason my kid’s games often ended with death and destruction. Kind of like those disaster of the week shows, where every episode they had to top the previous tragedy with something even more life shattering. First the family is in danger, then the whole block, then the town, the city, the state, country…All mankind and of course, Earth.
It can make for great TV but I prefer when my kid’s play is a bit more constructive and I’m not so worried that I’m raising sociopaths. So, I guess you can say that improv has made my kids better people.
There are loads of terrific improv classes for adults and kids but this time I’m going to share with you one of my favorite kids places to put in your secret weapon tool belt: The Young Actors Project.
YAP’s Executive Director is a terrific woman named Shoshana Kuttner. The classes we go to are held at the Westside Comedy Theatre located on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. If you look up the program you’ll see they also offer theatre, filmmaking and camps some of which are in Malibu.
One of the reasons I like this class so much is because it has kids of various ages all working together. It’s structured like Chicago’s Comedy Sports, lots of quick improv games which kids really excel at. They offer two types of improv classes, one is a weekly session once a week for a few months and the other is a daily class during a spring, summer or winter camp. Both classes result in an hour-long show featuring the kids. It takes place at the Westside Comedy Theater with a little help from the adult members of the house team, Mission Improvable, who work with the kids to keep the show moving by introducing the players and games. It is an enormous confidence builder for the kids to perform in front of a full house, get lots of cheers and hear the authentic laughter.
My kids were introduced to it when Dylan’s good friend who, by the way isn’t the least bit interested in acting, was taking the class. We were invited to attend the performance and at $5 a ticket, it’s a cheap night out that is truly fun for the whole family! We definitely enjoyed seeing his friend on stage but really all the kids were great! The most wonderful thing about improv is that if you follow a couple of sim rules, being hilarious is an easy 1-2-3.
LISTEN + Say YES to whatever is happening on stage + TRUST that whatever you add with your AND will be supported = FUNNY!
Kids who may be shy in other circumstances can blossom in improv. It’s especially good for kids who are process oriented because most of the games are built on a pattern or have a clear equation almost like math. I’ve heard stories over and over about improv helping kids in all the other areas of their lives.
So, of course, I signed both of them up for the winter break improv camp. When I dropped them off I was a tad nervous to leave them. Marleigh was on the young side of the age range and basically hid behind me for as long as possible. Dylan was intimidated because there were a few high school kids. When I got back a few hours later they were having the best time. By the end of the week-long session, they were comfortable up on stage working with kids of any age. Shoshana had managed to teach them a lot of new skills, and most importantly help them find their confidence. The show was so funny that my face hurt from laughing!
All of that is great but possibly the best part of all is that now when they play pretend it goes like this:
He says, “The X-Wing fighter has launched a cruise missile and it’s headed right for Twilight Sparkle’s HQ”
Then She says, “Yes, and Twilight Sparkle jumps on and rides it toward the Enterprise.”
“Yes, and Captain Kirk calls out, “Twilight Sparkle… I am your… father.”
“Yes, and….” Laughter ensues. I smile from the other room. Confident that my children will be well adjusted adults who are open to compromise and working together. Then the disaster of the week show could be a collaboration of the week!
Hmmmm…Maybe all humankind would benefit from a little improv.