December improv workshops kick off

Natasha Speiss

Performing Arts teachers Michele Spears and Lisa Frederickson hosted the first improv workshop of the year Dec. 4, in which students played a variety of acting games.

In an email to upper school students, Spears described the improv workshops as a way to relax and have fun every Friday after school. No previous experience in improv is necessary to participate in the workshops.

“This is a chance to see what improv is all about, work out your improv muscles, play games, create stories on the spot with your classmates […] and laugh,” Spears said.

While the improv workshops run from 3:30 to 6 p.m., students are able to drop in whenever and are not required to stay for the whole session. Some games included utilizing the whiteboard feature to create a story, acting out Zoom calls and creating scenes with dialogue rotating through each letter of the alphabet.

Carter Staggs ’23 said he joined the workshop because he enjoyed participating in improv at the Middle School and said he was surprised about its success.

“I didn’t expect how well the workshop would work over Zoom,” Staggs said. “Everyone was willing to participate fully, even without audience feedback, which makes performing and especially improv very hard.”

Staggs said the workshop was valuable because he got the chance to develop his improv skills and see the school community in action.

“I learned how clever and funny my classmates and the Harvard-Westlake community are,” Staggs said. “Also, it was helpful to go over the alphabet because I seemed to have a tenuous grasp on that.”

Spears said she feels approaching improv through Zoom requires different techniques than acting in person.

“In a room, you can feel body language and rhythms, which you can’t approach on Zoom,” Spears said. “It’s not necessarily worse, just different.”

Spears said her favorite part of the workshop was how open people were in their approaches to the acting.

“I loved the playfulness that everybody had all the way through,” Spears said. “Just that ability to go ‘that’s ridiculous and I’m going to play with it anyway.’”

Spears said she felt that the improv workshop alleviated some of the stress and uncertainty caused by the coronavirus and provided students the chance to acknowledge and accept the situation they are in.

“We’ve experienced so much with the chaos of this pandemic,” Spears said. “It’s a skill to be able to train that muscle that goes ‘this is crazy, and I’m okay with that.’