Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Amateurs Take to the Stage to Learn the Art of Improv

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Amateurs Take to the Stage to Learn the Art of Improv

Article excerpt

Byline: MARIA CONNOR, River City News correspondent

"Everybody on the stage!"

Scott Abrams, director of ImprovJacksonville, calls to order the Wednesday night rehearsal of the Bedlamites, a hands-on workshop for improvisation amateurs.

Among the group of men and women standing shoulder to shoulder across the empty wooden platform is Chris Shriver, 34, of the Southside. This is to be his last rehearsal as a newbie; Shriver is making his stage debut at the 8 p.m. performance.

Shriver has been in training since Jan. 15. He learned about the group while recording a promo shot for WJXT TV-4, where he works as a photojournalist. He had seen improv done at Disney World's Pleasure Island and thought it looked fun.

"I found out it's harder than it looks, but it's just as much fun as it looks," he said. "I was a little nervous before the first workshop. I didn't know what it would be like. As soon as I got on stage, I felt comfortable."

Abrams, 30, of Springfield, has been with ImprovJacksonville for five years and has been its director for four. While rehearsals are conducted under his tutelage, it would be more accurate to describe it as group learning.

Long-time Bedlamite members and individuals from ImprovJacksonville's professional Ensemble Crew routinely participate, sharing skills they have honed. It takes only a couple of rehearsals to get a feel for the art, to understand that "peas and carrots" refers to pretend conversation when not part of the main action, and that the "fourth wall" is the imaginary structure between the performers and the audience.

Each rehearsal includes games and exercises that make up actual performances: sketches, songs, jokes and skits. The intent is to familiarize the cast with the methodology, as well as overcome fears.

"Probably the biggest one, and the one people have the most trouble getting over, is to stop thinking. Because the moment you think on stage, you're already lost. You have to be operating from intuition. You have to be operating from instinct," Abrams said.

Rachel Wical, 35, of the Southside, has been involved with ImprovJacksonville 1 1/2 years. …

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