School News

Improv Class Hones Skills with Help from Visiting Actors
Posted 01/30/2014 12:00AM

What if you were on stage and expected to entertain an audience without having learned any lines or gathered any props? Creating a performance—the characters, action, dialogue, and story—the moment it is performed, with direction from the audience, is the job of an improv actor, and Fenn Upper School boys are learning the craft with their drama teacher, Tiffany Toner.

During a recent class Tiffany invited two of her "improv friends," Melissa Bowler and Keith Munslow, professional performers based in Providence, to visit the class and work with her students. The two actors ran the boys through a number of warm-up exercises and reminded them of such improv "rules" as "never turn your back to the audience" and, when one boy took out his phone to create a scene, "remember that all of your props must be imaginary."
One improv exercise Tiffany does with her class is called "Party Quirks," whereby four boys attend an imaginary party, but one boy, the host, leaves the room temporarily so he is not privy to the "quirks" of his three guests, which the audience helps decide. He must guess what they are.

In one scene, Austin Kwoun had to figure out why Anthony Duane was apparently chopping down the front door with an imaginary ax (his character was a lumberjack), why Cam Parker couldn't stop itching his stomach (his character had a new belly button piercing), and why Nick Schoeller was constantly answering his invisible phone and telling the caller to stop bothering him (his character had a helicopter mom).

Tiffany developed the Improv course last summer with support from a curriculum grant. She also created a Middle School course called Stagecraft, in which students choose a character and devise their own costumes, make-up, and lighting, and create their character's fictional back story.

Having attended Providence College with Melissa, where they performed in their school's improv troupe, Tiffany went on to join a comedy group called Inside Jokes that performed on the East Coast. The women also worked together on several comedy shows and for the non-profit Manton Avenue Project.

Keith, Melissa's husband, has visited Fenn in the past as a storyteller in Lower School classes. He is an award-winning performer who has years of improv experience. Keith and Melissa are members of the long-form improvisational comedy troupe The Trumans.

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