Levity Improv Comedy delighted a hefty audience last month with its premier production of improvisational theater under the trees at the Grizzly Peak Winery in Ashland. I visited with director Lyda Woods and troupe members Cynthia Rogan, Mig Windows and Jeffrey Hayes, and we reminisced about the exuberant evening.
LW: I really like improv because it teaches me to be a better person. Some of the guidelines are: You're trying to say "yes" as often as you can. And it's important to be openhearted, to be kindhearted, to be lighthearted, to be really available and supportive of your teammates, and really in the moment. And those are all things I'd like to be in my life. The other thing is that it encourages me to fail big. When I do improv, I'm always trying to get myself to take the risk, and that means risking failure.
In a regular theatrical production things are much more codified. You've got the script, and there's a director who tells you where to move, and somebody puts a costume on you, and somebody hands you a prop. And you've got your subtext (your internal stuff you're working on), and your monologue and all that. But it's not as free. It's a different kind of art. If you were to compare it to music, improv is more like jazz. There is more freedom in the form to explore.
CR: After my kids were grown, I went for years where the scariest thing that I did was to try a new recipe. I thought, "There ought to be more; I've got to take some more chances." I ended up in Lyda's improv class. But the improv class is way different than being in a large show. Way different. The show's a kick in the butt.
LW: It was amazing to me how working out (doing improv every week) opened me up. I had an acting audition after that, and I felt more available to myself in a way that I normally wouldn't be.
EH: You all seem so bright, your minds are moving so quickly.
LW: It doesn't feel like that on the inside.
JH: It never does. You're up there and you're thinking, "I should have said that twenty minutes ago."
LW: Or, "How do I climb out of this moment?"
JH: It really doesn't matter if you feel that you're on top of your game or you know the wittiest thing to say. What really helps on stage is the fact that we all built a rapport really quickly. By week two, I knew that I could put complete faith in my fellow actors. They were always there to do something great, and support, and help, and create and build. In improv, what it really comes down to is having a great group dynamic.
EH: Do you ever fear going completely blank when you perform?
CR: The rest of the troupe, they are your net. So if you screw up they help you find a way to get out of it. The comforting thing to me is that it's improv.
JH: What's interesting in improv is that screwing up is almost integral to the show.
LW: Yes, you can't escape it. The audience is in it too. Part of the entertainment is watching us reach and fail, and reach and succeed. Both are entertaining.
I'm drawn to actors who want to write and act and own their own artistic vision, rather than being in someone else's vision over and over, actors who want their art to reflect how they see the world.
For information about Levity Improv Comedy see facebook.com/levityimprov, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone 541-708-1082.
Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director living in Ashland. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Reach her at email@example.com.