Oka ’92 teaches acting, improv

Jackson Novick

Actor Masi Oka ‘92 taught an Unconventional Leadership workshop on improvisational skills in the Drama Lab last Friday.

Oka, who starred in NBC’s “Heroes,” has a background in improv that includes several troupes, such as the Groundlings, Improv Olympics, Second City, and Theatre Sports. He has taught his own improv workshops in California, Hawaii and Japan.

“This is all about participating,” Oka told students. “There’s not that many rules, but there’s a couple things that we want to agree on. This is a safe space, and there are no right answers. There’s no judgment. I want everyone to be supportive of each other. I want you all to think of each other as geniuses.”

The class stood in a circle. One person made a sound and action, then each person repeated it. Oka then asked the class to redo the exercise, this time altering the sound and motion as it traveled around the circle.

“[This game] is improv at its basic: I present an idea to the world, and someone else accepts it,” Oka said. “If someone had never changed [the idea], then it would come back to me. But if someone else accepts it, that idea lives. If that idea lives, it becomes a brilliant idea. That motion can inspire you to do something else.”

In a test of agility, students were required to pass imaginary different-colored balls to one another using only visual and verbal cues.

“Point is, whatever you do, just do it,” Oka said.

Students also partnered up and planned a trip or adventure. Oka told them to only disagree and say “no” to each other.

Students learned that the answer was inhibiting, as nothing in their plans was able to move forward.

Students repeated the exercise, this time saying, “yes, and.” Ideas for the student-planned trips immediately took off.

The final lesson was called the “ad game.” Students had to come up with various original products, complete with their own commercial jingles. They had to be conscious of how many people around them were saying no, and how often they themselves were saying no. With this lesson, students found that, using the “yes, and” strategy, they were able to not only complete the assignment, but also experience the collaborative nature of bouncing ideas back and forth.

“Do you want to live your life in insecurity or fear?” Oka asked. “Or do you want to go on an adventure?”