Building on Improv-A-Thing, Herndon HS Improv Does It Again!
Last Friday night Herndon High’s improv team took the stage at Woodson HS for their last competition away from home. This competition felt different from the previous three this year. There were fewer teams (only eight), there were new games, and there was a “referee” that was more involved in the games. But despite these obstacles, Herndon came out in the top three yet again, edged out by West Potomac and home-team Woodson. Friday night’s result has arguably solidified Herndon’s improv team as one of the best in the county, and that reputation is well-deserved.
Building a culture
It’s really hard to fully express how dramatic the improvement has been in our improv team from recent years to this year. Not that there haven’t been great individual improv actors in the HHS Theatre Department. And it’s not even that improv hasn’t been something kids at HHS have been aware of. However, this year has represented a sea change in the culture of the improv team. Improv has gone from an afterthought to a concerted collective endeavor bent on success. Moreover, with zero seniors on the team this year, and a wealth of improv-lovers in the middle school ranks, the future looks bright!
Building on a Solid Foundation
When I began my second year at Herndon, I reorganized the focus of each of the four Theatre Arts levels that I teach. Of course I still cover the wide range of topics put forward in the FCPS Program of Studies. But nevertheless each year needed a distinctive central theme which was missing last year. Now, more than halfway through the school year, I definitely recognize how much this reorganization has benefitted my students. Specifically, my Theatre Arts 1 class focuses on improv and devising before it culminates in a theatrical production. By starting with improv, every one of my students has had repeated opportunities to perform for each other. Within those opportunities, they experience an entire universe of successes and failures from which to gain insight.
Those insights from our massive improv unit have been paying dividends as we have moved into devising theatre. The moments of nervousness and fragility are still there, but are more and more rare. Also increasingly scarce are the moments of disparate levels of focus from the class when they are observing scenes. But what I’m most proud of, are the risks that my Theatre 1 students have been taking in their devised scenes. It’s one thing to take a physical risk with a character during an improv scene; the scene ends and you never have to revisit it. But when you are properly constructing a scene and making intentional choices, many actors shy away from taking risks.
I think the reason for these recent successes has been building upon improv and then bridging to more composed work. I’m really excited to take these successes and apply them toward our in-class production of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.
Building Has Begun for Into the Woods!
In a last bit of news, we have officially begun building our set for Into the Woods. We were supposed to begin last week, but unfortunately school activities were canceled due to wind. Trying to build a set for a full-scale mainstage production in four six-hour sessions is a daunting task. But when one of those sessions is canceled, the producer (me) and the director (also me) have to have a frank conversation about what is realistic. So I had a talk with myself (don’t worry, it wasn’t out loud), and I came to the consensus that we would proceed without changing anything. This decision was helped by the fact that last weekend, a few intrepid parent volunteers met in a garage and constructed much of what was planned for last week. These heroes of Herndon Theatre may have their names engraved on a plaque in our auditorium one day.