Topanga’s Improvisionaries Showcase Laughter

It’s one thing to practice in class, but it’s another to perform in front of a live audience. 

“We were on fire!” “We’ve never done so well!” said the exuberant cast, students of teacher Adam Noble Roberts’ The Improvisionaries, following their first improvisation showcase on Sunday, April 28, at Corazón Performing Arts.

Throughout the evening, the actors—Phoebe Sarason, Lana Epstein, James Gabriel, Jane and Doug Hammond—fed on the audience’s laughter and kept the lines coming and the relationships strong.

On Sundays from 4-6 p.m., the beginners group showed up weekly to learn improv skills through a series of games and scenarios that taught them to set the relationships in the scene, listen, share, and always support their partners.

In class, they followed the admonition of their teacher, “Trust your brain to come up with something, then own it,” as their training progressed from portraying characters on a bus to outrageous adventures, all improvised on the spot, of course.

“Yes, and…” is a mantra Roberts often reiterates, and sometimes has his students actually speak, as it embodies the fundamental improvisational state of mind: “Agreement and Addition,” the key for scene-building.

“It’s what allows the magic to unfold,” says Roberts who borrows another bit of wisdom from the seminal improv book, Truth in Comedy, to “Treat your partners like geniuses and they’re more likely to behave like geniuses.”

The latest improv group are the students who come to Corazón. They have varied a bit from week to week but have included a cross-section of Topangans and nearby neighbors. In real life they are artists, writers, teachers, environmentalists, medical providers, business managers, and students. Ages range from 20-somethings to senior citizens.

When Roberts asked the group if they wanted to showcase their new-found skills in front of an audience, they decided, after some hesitation, to trust each other and give it a try.

You never know where a little imagination might take you—more than likely, it’s from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Prompts from the audience to start the sketches included, “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” and choosing a setting, “The Planet Xenon,” which included a poet from this distant (and noble) planet reciting a poem in an unknown language, while a translator and interpretative dancers pretended they knew what he was saying.

Other sketches were based on games: “Freeze Tag” created an array of scenes inspired by the actors, who on cue, “froze,” handing off the next “scene” to another actor. “Debate Challenge” started and ended with global warming but went everywhere in between as it ran its course. “Don’t Make Me Laugh” did just the opposite: the audience and troupe couldn’t help themselves.

Following the show, one cast member was heard to say, “I never thought I could be funny.”

Everyone enjoyed the evening, staying a little longer enticed by Jane Hammond’s homemade chocolate cake, and scintillating conversation. Perhaps this is just the first of a series of delightful improvisational evenings to come. The class is ongoing and anyone, at any level, can join any time. Drop in, join the fun, and uncover your dormant creative potential. Sundays, 4-6 p.m., at Corazón Performing Arts.

For more information: nobleloaf@gmail.com.

About Adam Nobel Roberts—In 2001, Roberts, performing in a play in his home town of Woodstock, NY, was invited by a cast member, a brilliant comedic actress named Lisa Ellerby, to help form an improv troupe. Dozens of shows later, Noble was sharing teaching duties with Emmy award-winning actress Denny Dillon at the Woodstock Day School, where they ran an after-school program based on the Viola Spolin school of improv where Roberts honed his skills. From there, he became assistant director to Hollywood veteran Paul Mones in an interactive, improvisational role-playing adventure they called Mythixquest, created for youngsters attending the Day School’s summer camp. Roberts continued to perform improv and teach kids who were part of a homeschool collective. In 2003, he moved to Los Angeles where he formed the first iterations of The Improvisionaries, eventually landing at Kent Skov’s LA Connection Comedy Theatre where he continues to develop his skills and learn from great talents like John Dardenne and Joe Spence.

 

By Jane Hammond

 

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