By Dee Jae Cox
noun. – the action of improvising.
– something that is improvised, especially a piece of music, drama, etc., created without preparation.
Improvisational Theatre (Improv) is the art of creating or crafting a theatrical piece without a script or rehearsal. The ability to bring magic and laughter and verbal hugs to an audience without any foreknowledge of what the content of the scene might be.
Few may be familiar with the beginnings of Improv, the Commedia Dell’Arte, which was popular form of theater throughout Europe for almost 200 years, between the 1500 and 1700 hundreds. Troupes of performers would travel from town to town, presenting shows in the public squares and on makeshift stages. They would improvise all of their own dialog, within a framework provided by a set “scenario”. It was the ‘poor man’s’ theater.
In the 1920’s, a woman named Viola Spolin, who began to develop a new approach to the teaching of acting, brought early Improv to America. It was based on the simple idea that children would enjoy learning the craft of acting if it were presented as a series of games. Spolin’s son, Paul Sills, built on his mother’s work and was one of the driving forces of improvisational theater centered around the University of Chicago in the mid-1950’s. From there leading groups such as Second City emerged and the theatrical art form spread across the country from New York to California. Improvisational theater inspired and produced great talents such as Gilda Radner, John Belushi, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. It is the heart of imagination.
A visionary woman by the name of Kate Ullman, a New York Native and a California transplant, realized a few years ago that the inspiring art of Improv was missing in the Palm Springs area. She said, “No one was teaching improv at that time in the desert, and I missed the fun, so I invited friends to come to my house for play days…No experience necessary, just show up. People are naturally creative, and as they were tapping into their creativity, interacting and laughing with others, the group bonded.”
And so ‘The Improvables of the Desert’ were born! A group of talented performers, Michele Weiss, David Brooks Lin Phillipi, Jeannie Reich, Duane Poland and the newest member, Mike McGinty, joined Kate and they all came together to create one of the funniest and most creative shows in the Coachella Valley. Michele is a multi-talented singer/songwriter, David a professional actor (seen most recently at the Desert Rose Playhouse), Lin is a published author (currently working on a new novel) and Jeannie was a member of the renowned Improv troupe (Joe and Mustard).
Teacher and inspirational leader, Kate Ullman says that “Anyone can play at improv, improv is life! improv is everywhere! Often we are challenged to be spontaneous and creative in real life. The first step in improv is showing up and being able to listen. Take a breath and allow yourself to be open and to let go of judgements.”
What makes improv different from other live theater productions is that you’re given a certain scenario and then everything is made up on the spot, there are no written scripts, one is never wrong, and you work as a team in support of your scene partner. There are no stars, no directors, no lines to memorize and no set destination, there is only the fun of the journey and being in the moment.
This group makes it look easy, though the ability to get up in front of a live audience without a script and perform is a daunting task for even the most seasoned actors. Each show is unique. Each performance is special, magical, funny and unique. If you have never seen live improv, then you are truly missing a theatrical experience. Go and see The Improvables of the Desert.
For information on performance dates: www.improvablesofthedesert.com and on Facebook: The Improvables of the Desert
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of, “California Woman 411”. www.californiawoman411.com