As the kids arrived on Monday, they noticed a sign in the window: Long-View Micro School Improv Comedy Festival, 12:30 p.m., October 25th @ Fallout Theater.
Only a few had studied improv before, so the learners had a lot to learn before their Thursday show. The week began with a visit from professional improv comedians Jessica Arjet and Kim Roche, who drew three teachers’ names from a hat. Ms. Lyon (the Cookie Monster) was to host a talk show with special guest alien, Mr. Moore, famed for his love of eating. To understand each other, they needed a translator, Ms. Zapalac. The three teachers had planned nothing in advance, and were more than a little nervous as they took the stage and received their instructions, but by the end of the scene, the kids were in stitches, and ready to try it for themselves.
The kids hurried into Moontower, our big window-walled room, where they each drew a troupe name out of a pair of overalls. Each troupe cheered as they welcomed new members: Trou-sers, trou-sers! Cour-du-roy, cour-du-roy! By the end, we had eight troupes of performers, all with silly pants-themed names. Each troupe selected one or two directors from their ranks, whose job it would be to introduce and manage the troupe’s scenes during their live performance. Some learners were ready to jump in, while others were nervous about performing and taking risks in front of people. Either way, they had three days to prepare before their big show.
Each morning of Build Week, troupes rotated through four rooms, learning new improv games and honing their skills. In the afternoons, they practiced with their troupes, refining their techniques to become performance-ready, with the help of our three improv experts, Kim, Jessica, and our very own Nichole Bennett. Over the course of the week, learners began to discover that improv is fueled by the same skills as our academic blocks. Games like Woosh Bang Pow and Alien Translator require focus and careful listening (essential parts of communication), while Three-Headed-Monster requires collaboration. Just like Long-View math, games like String the Pearls and Five Things only work if troupe members are willing to take risks and leverage their creativity.
So, did Build Week 8 strengthen the skills that Long-View learners rely upon every day?
Yes, and it taught us some new ones!
In improv, a scene works best if the improvisers say “yes and” to each other’s suggestions. Was Margaret a young child who had forgotten how to clean her room? Yes, and she’d forgotten her own name too! Her mother (Ian) patiently reminded her literally everything about her life, and the audience doubled over with laughter. Not only was this scene hilarious, but it showed us what a yes and attitude can do.
At Long-View, we are more than willing to openly disagree with each other, but yes and gave us some new language to use when we want to offer an iteration instead of an outright disagreement. Is the square root of 10 greater than the value of pi? Yes, and drawing a square can help us visualize it.
In addition to yes and, improv also taught us a new way to raise each other up. Throughout Build Week, it became obvious that when one person stole the spotlight, the scene fell flat for the whole troupe. The key, our improvisers learned, was to keep everyone in the scene engaged, which sometimes meant letting go of one’s own way of doing things and going with the flow of what was happening between the other improvisers. To look good as an improviser actually meant that each learner had to work to make their whole troupe look good. This practice gave us a new phrase to use in academic blocks: make the whole group look good!
In addition to the new skills and concepts that we discovered through improv, it also gave our learners a host of new opportunities. One highlight was a visit from Margaret’s mom, Lena, a professional voice actor. She taught us how to use our voices to create characters, and our learners got the chance to practice different voices with her. A sassy 17-year-old who doesn’t like her new Tesla? Easy!
Our learners also had the chance to ride the city bus and perform on a stage--many for the first time. Several learners came in early one day to plan a route to get us to the Fallout Theater and back on CapMetro buses. On the day of the performance, Ellie took charge and navigated us seamlessly to the theater. At the Fallout, the learners settled into tiered seats, a brightly lit stage beckoning from below. One at a time, the troupes took the stage to perform their favorite improv games. A friend of Ms. Bennett’s ran lighting to add an extra layer of drama to our scenes, and the learners took the stage with a smile, even those who had been nervous earlier in the week.
After an hour of riotous laughter and joy, we spent a few minutes debriefing what we had learned, and how we could apply it to our ongoing lives as Long-View Learners. Finally, Ellie navigated us back to Long-View for pickup. Was Build Week 8 completely transformative?
Yes, and it was fun!