Friday, December 12, 2014

Improv Empty Nest Syndrome by Michael Golding

The danger in working with at-risk teens for as long as I have is that sometimes you forget that this is the first time they are exposed to a “learning by doing” approach and the type of interactive teacher that you are. This fact always comes back home at the last class for me, where the attendance is larger than usual.  Given the opportunity to leave early, the students choose to just hang around. They simply don’t want to say goodbye to you.

Handiwork of my class
The sense of finality usually hits me a few hours later, when it sinks in that I won’t see this group on a regular basis anymore.  This time, an aura of sadness enveloped me the second I got in my car to go home. While I was thrilled that my return commute on the normally congested highway was lighter than usual (and I outran an impending storm), I wouldn’t have minded a longer session and grooving on the endorphin rush a workshop leaves me with as I’m stuck in traffic listening to jazz.

This class got me through losing Willie Wyllie, co-creator of the Canadian Improv Games (CIG), and the weeks that led up to his passing when we all knew the end was near. I screened “In the Moment,” a documentary about CIG by Sandra Chwialkowska for my class.  I forgot that Willie was in the film, being interviewed alongside Howard Jerome, who co-created CIG with him. When Willie’s face appeared on screen, happy, passionate and vibrant – I almost lost it. 

The late Willie Wyllie speaking at the CIG's National Festival

The students knew about Willie’s passing, because I had to end a session early so I could get to the airport to fly out to Ottawa for his memorial. Barely a week after returning from Ottawa, Parliament was attacked by a gunman – which led to an engaging discussion in class about gun violence and terrorism, resulting in the students viewing me as a somewhat exotic person who travels to dangerous lands.

For over two hours twice a week, late in the afternoon, this class kept me focused and in the moment. Canada and my connection to CIG and Planned Parenthood Ottawa's Insight Theatre Company, which I created, became a concurrent theme alongside the goal of doing theatre. The Canadian elements came off as mythical and the connection to reality was me. After viewing the first scene from a TV adaptation of the Insight Theatre Company, where a mother and father were at odds over how to discipline a child who returned home drunk from a party the night before, the class was broken up into groups of three, where they were instructed to recreate the scene with an American, inner-city slant.

The students brainstormed the beats, based on what they just saw, and what followed were seven distinctly different scenes. One was done entirely in gibberish. Another, in Spanish. Several groups incorporated complex games, such as "1, 2, 3, Sentence" where players can only speak with one word at a time, then two, then three, finally full sentences - before reversing the order until ending the scene with one word at a time. Powerful to watch.

Poof! Students are gone!
So, as I chalk up another successful course, I’m not certain how many of my students will pursue theatre further or continue to improvise. But, I do know quite a few of them would like to visit Canada.  

Michael Golding is a writer, director and improv teacher.  He can be contacted for workshops, festivals and private consultations at Michael participated in the evolution of the Improv Olympics & Canadian Improv Games. Artistic director of the Comic Strip Improv Group in N.Y. & created the Insight Theatre Company for Planned Parenthood, Ottawa.  He is a faculty member at El Camino College in Los Angeles, working with at-risk teens and traditional students. His screenplay credits include "Celebrity Pet" for the Disney Channel and the documentary "David Shepherd: A Lifetime of Improvisational Theatre."  His book, Listen Harder, a collection of essays, curriculum and memorabilia on improvisation and educational theatre, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and CreateSpace. Michael holds a BFA degree in Drama from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts & an MA degree in Educational Theatre from NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education & Human Development.

1 comment:

  1. Jamie would be happy knowing that you continue to use your gifts and talents wisely, encouraging young people to be the best they can be!