Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Scripted Conversation with Improv Master

There has been a recent surge in Improvisational Theater at Oddfellows Playhouse.  In January, three groups, SeaTea Improv, The Sticks and The Great Make Believe Society presented a great evening of comedy to an audience at Oddfellows.  In February, there are two more chances for teens and adults to experience some great improv performances and get in on the action.  There is a two-day Master Class led by Oddfellows Playhouse/Wesleyan/MHS alum and founder of the San Francisco Improv Festival, Sam Shaw (2/16 & 2/17) and then Middletown Comedy Night on Sunday 2/17 with performances from Sam Shaw, the Improv Bootcamp and Middletown's own Great Make Believe Society.  
We had a chance to catch up with Sam Shaw (Master Class: Improv Bootcamp) recently to talk about what he is doing these days and improv in general.  

What did Oddfellows do for you?
Oddfellows introduced me to improv, for one, and also to stage acting and many many lifelong friendships. It was a place where it was ok to be goofy and take risks, and the teachers were my first artistic mentors. It was such a privilege to have OP as a resource when I grow up. Honestly, I want to start an OP of my own before I die.

Why do kids need art and creativity in their lives?
Not only do kids need a forum to escape through creative play, they also need a forum to express themselves. Kids have opinions and points of view that are really not heard, which is especially unsettling because growing up can be so frightening and uncomfortable. Creative arts let kids comment on and perform through their personal experience as they move toward adulthood. We undervalue this important outlet. Arts programs are sadly being cut back across the country and I fear that this will make our society boring and uptight.
What has been the coolest/greatest moment of your improv career?
I founded the San Francisco Improv Festival in 2004, but re-launching it in 2010 with my troupe Crisis Hopkins was a really exciting time. Both big shows I did with that troupe, improv/sketch/video comedy revues, were the best shows I've ever done. Also two moments where the path I was on was totally verified and encouraged - performing at an improv jam with Robin Williams and doing a sketch on Late Night with Conan O'Brien when he came to San Francisco in 2008. Those were the best experiences so far, but I'm counting on many more awesome moments.  Thanks for not asking about my worst experiences.
Has improv ever helped you manage/get out of a sticky situation in real life?
Improv generally makes one a more effective and rounded individual. I can't pinpoint a single "sticky moment" but it has made me a better actor, writer, and most importantly a better team player. We all start as improvisers when we're young and unfortunately get "trained" out of it pretty quickly as we mature. This is a shame. Improvisation helps us recover that freedom of play. 
Why is improvisation important if you're not going to pursue it as a career path?
See above. Can I say that? See above. But also - I find as someone with a dayjob and a young family, improv simply fits into my schedule. The rehearsal schedule of scripted theater is time-intensive. Being an improviser is more like being a musician, even a simple weekly rehearsal can improve your play. There are more and more venue for performance as well. And the definition of a "career-path" in improv is pretty tricky. Most often, improv itself isn't a career unto itself, it's a path to a career in acting or writing. I know many many improvisers - none of them make all or most of their income through the performance of improv. It's usually part of a mix of acting, writing, directing, teaching, and consulting work.

What are you currently working on?
I'm producing the 50th birthday party for The Committee, an influential improv and sketch comedy troupe that ruled San Francisco from 1963-1973. Basically the company started when a bunch of Second City-trained actors hopped in a car and headed west. They used improv techniques to create comedy that documented and satirized the counterculture. We're throwing them a party in April as part of a larger documentary film and book project. To keep my performance chops up I'm still performing every now and then and I have a semi-regular side-gig as a performance coach introducing improv techniques to local nuclear scientists. Yeah, crazy. 

Master Class: Improv Bootcamp with Sam Shaw
When: Saturday & Sunday, February 16 & 17
Who: Teens & Adults
Time: 12pm-4pm, Performance Sunday 7pm
Tuition: $90

Only 7 slots remaining! Call 860-347-6143 to reserve your spot today!  

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