Originally created 02/22/06

Workshop teaches students how to improvise with few words



Suppose you found yourself trying to carry on a conversation in which your entire dialogue could consist only of the numbers one through 10.

Fourteen University of South Carolina Aiken drama students and their instructor were given this task during an improvisation workshop with two cast members of the Chicago-based comedy troupe Second City. The troupe was in Aiken on Thursday for a performance at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Amazingly, scenes unfolded, characters emerged and relationships developed with the limited lines.

This exercise, one of several the comedy troupe members led the students through, was a favorite of sophomore Casey Jones, 21, and Calvin Thompson, 22, a recent graduate.

"I was really nervous at first, but I wasn't pressured to be so funny," Mr. Thompson said.

Second City performers Mark Swaner and Sarah Haskins said the six members of the comedy troupe rotate improvisation workshop duties when they are out on tour performing. They had nothing but praise for the Aiken students.

"They're great," they said almost simultaneously during a break in the workshop.

Ms. Haskins said the group had "no Alpha dogs" - performers who try to upstage the others.

"I think they've got a lot of theater experience. But if they don't, they're willing to take risks," she said.

Ms. Jones said she found herself taking chances she might not have ordinarily taken.

"I'm always a little shy with improv," she said. "I'm actually coming out of my shell and learning new things."

The students also paired up to create three-line scenes and form letters of the alphabet without talking to one another.

"We're not allowed to tell each other what to do on stage," Ms. Haskins said.

She said the humor in a scene comes from the performers' reactions.

"Big emotional reactions will serve you in improvisation more than anything else ... and you will have a place that your scene can go," Mr. Swaner told the students.

He said the sessions also were beneficial for members of the comedy troupe.

"It's just good to sort of go over some of the things that we were trained to do," Mr. Swaner said.

Thomas Hofstetter, the chairman of the Aiken Performing Arts Group, said it is rewarding for the community when visiting artists hold workshops for local performers.

"We're really trying to build the educational component in our shows," he said.

The Performing Arts Group has booked four shows for next season, Mr. Hofstetter said, and each of them will include an educational component.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (803) 648-1395 or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.