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Saying yes to improv in 209
Improv pic1 LT
Past and present members of Cal State Stanislaus Improv Club perform a game called Picture Frame, where each participant must make a series of statuesque poses. - photo by Photo Contributed

Ever wonder how comedy shows like “Who’s line is it anyway?” or “Wild N’ Out” became so popular even though they are not even scripted? Improvisational theatre, also known as improv, has the answers.

Improv is a form of acting in theater that detracts from reiterating the same lines over and over again. Instead, all performances are created in the moment without any preplanning. In essence, it is the purest form of creative instincts, and often tells a story or features a character directly from the actor’s psyche.

Because of this, psychological therapists have also used improv as an insightful method into their patient’s thoughts, feelings, and relationships. The process involves quick thinking, and is used as a mental and physical exercise for many actors before performing scenes.

Walter Astorga, a Music and Theater major at California State University, Stanislaus, was first introduced to improv roughly a year ago when he attended a local club’s live performance. During the summertime, he enrolled for an improv workshop, and immediately fell in love with his newfound acting method.

“I like that it relies on impulses instead of planned acting,” said Astorga. “Whatever you say comes from somewhere. You don’t control the scene. It is about letting go, and the contents of the scene will follow through. It is an organic form of acting.”

Shortly after joining the summer workshop, Astorga decided to become a member of CSU Stanislaus’ Improv Club, a group composed of 10 to 12 members looking to build their skills as quick-thinking individuals and improve their relationship with others.

“What is one of the most important lessons you learn in improv is to pay attention to your partner,” said Astorga. “You have to support your partner’s decisions in a scene and commit. Improv focuses on the relationship between two people. Everything you do in a scene has to be mutual, and you must be in the moment.”

Unlike other forms of theater, improv has a strong and direct interaction with audience members.  Usually, it is the audience members who get to shout out what they want to see in a scene, where it is to take place, or who the actors are supposed to represent.

Though not all improvisational scenes are funny, they tell a story either in short-form or long-form depending on the actor’s imaginative ability or the scene’s relevance. Sometimes scenes only vie the audience’s attention for 30 seconds, whereas some members may be entertained for up to an hour at a time.

Astorga’s favorite improv game, known as “Freeze” involves two actors on stage that must act out a scene together. When a member of the audience calls “freeze!” the actors must retain their positions, no matter how unorthodox they may look and stop their dialogue. The audience member who yelled “freeze” must jump on stage, tap one of the actors, and assume their position, then begin a new dialogue.

“Someone once told me to be possessed,” said Astorga. “It was actually pretty terrifying for me, and for everyone watching. “

Despite terrorizing everyone in the audience, Astorga followed one of the only rules associated with this unconstrained performance space: never say no. Anytime an offer is refused, the scene deconstructs. Improvisation focuses a method known as “yes, and,” where all grants are accepted. In return, the comedy and storyline will flow more freely.

Although improving lines are not for the faint of heart, many skilled actors are able to accomplish a greater sense of depth or even humor thanks to shows like “Saturday Night Live,” and movies such as “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” “Good Will Hunting,” “Star Wars,” and “Casablanca.”


209 staff reporter