Fear. Spontaneity. Courage. Freedom. Community.
Improvisation embodies all of these attributes according to Neil Nash, performing arts, drama and dance chair. “When a person feels free enough to be spontaneous on stage, pretty much everybody is funny,” Nash said. “This idea of trying to make it [humor] happen rather than letting it happen is death to an improv.” The improvisation class, composed of seven students, performs a specific type of improv known as “comedy improv,” according to Nash. Nash learned the skills necessary to teach the class during a “crash course” at Second City over the summer last year.
“It’s [improv] lots of practice…I definitely think the nerves help,” sophomore Josh Super said. Nash believes that the courage students need to perform in an improvisation class is born out of the acceptance of fear and the students’ understanding that they will be fine during, and after, the performance.
“You just got to take the leap,” Nash said.
Aydin Yalniz, a sophomore in Nash’s theater class, who occasionally performs improv, agrees that thinking while performing improvisation is not only unnecessary, but also detrimental to how the performer is perceived by the audience.
“It [improvisation] freaks me out a bit, but like getting into a really cold pool you don’t want to just inch into it. You just have to jump, go head first, and see where your brain takes you,” Yalniz said.
Yalniz’s theater experience in eighth grade paved the way for his continuation in the theater class this year. He plans on staying in the theater class as long as possible, but urges others to join the improvisation class.
“I do enjoy improv and I think they [students] should at least give it a shot,” Yalniz said.
Nash explains he teaches students to use a method called “yes and” to build on dialogue. Instead of rejecting other students’ offers, students are encouraged to build off of their remarks and make the other students look good while performing.
“We are all in this together,” Nash said. “All you can really do [to improve] is to practice.”
Tierra Murphy, a senior who performs improvisation at Second City, believes performing improvisation creates communities of people who trust each other and share a common passion for performing on stage. According to Murphy’s teacher, the class attracts an “island of misfit toys,” or groups of people who may not fit in a specific social group. These communities give improvisation a new depth as students gain a sense of belonging and an opportunity to express themselves in a forum that encourages personal growth, Murphy said.
“I have a really huge improv high and feel invincible after performing,” Murphy said.
Murphy is not able to take Nash’s class this year because it does not fit into her schedule, but was inspired to join an improv class outside of school after finding out one of her favorite comedians does it. After her first class, Murphy was nervous, but found a teacher who helped her to become more comfortable with improv. Murphy also learned to dance before a performance to calm down and focus.
“As time goes on I feel less nervous because I realize the audience is understanding my jokes and my team members are understanding me and everyone’s in it together so you’re never alone,” Murphy said.
While Murphy is anxious about performing improv, sophomore Josh Super gets a rush from it. Super was drawn to improv by the safe, friendly environment Nash provides in his classes. He thinks the nerves felt during a performance force actors to focus on both themselves and their classmates.
“It’s [the improvisation class] exhilarating,” Super said. “It’s a rush not knowing what you’re going to say next.”
Super plans to continue improvisation outside of school since he cannot fit the class into his schedule next year. He added he is interested in more script based writing as well.
Sophomore Taylor Brown, another student in the improv class, is not as intimidated onstage as other students. Brown believes that her fearlessness drew her to the class, and she enjoys the autonomy Nash’s small improvisation class offers.
“There’s no limit to what we say, there’s no filter, so we can touch any base we want to,” Brown said.
Brown is interested in continuing with improv, but may consider options outside of school, like Super.
Unlike Brown, sophomore Brandon Broukhim became interested in performing improv after being in the school play and enjoying it. Inspired by actors from SNL like Tina Fey and John Belushi, Broukhim eventually joined Second City. To get over his nerves, Broukim has learned to tighten his muscles so as to release nervous energy. Broukhim also gains confidence from the audience’s support of his comedic efforts.
“As soon as you hear the audience laugh, you feel like you’ve given them a great gift, and energy just starts flowing,” Broukhim said. “And I use my nervous energy to further my performance.”
Broukhim also said he loves acting on stage, as he believes he is a “funny person.”
“I love being on stage. There’s nothing that can match it,” Broukhim said.
Nash enjoys witnessing the growth of his students through his class and the courage that they present on stage.
“Seeing that courage then seeing them [students] succeed, seeing them say something that cracks up their classmates is great… they make me laugh all the time,” Nash said.