Stevenson High School students make it up as they go
Stevenson senior Maddie Levin performs Feb. 11 during "Failed Presidental Candidates," an improv performance at the high school. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Stevenson Improv Club
The rules of “making it up as you go”
The improv actors lean on three rules written by comedic actress Tina Fey.
• Never say “No” to a request during a skit. The answer is always “Yes, and ... ” which gives the comedians the chance to add to the action.
• Asking a few questions is OK, but asking too many puts a large burden on the other actors.
• The best thing a performer can do is find a way to make his or her partners shine. Rather than trying to stand out, the successful improv actor should try to blend into the mix.
Updated: February 21, 2013 7:34AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — Stevenson High School students and parents experienced last week a one-of-a-kind performance that no one will ever see again.
That is the essence of one of the high school’s newest clubs.
“It’s something no one’s seen before,” said SHS senior Annie Keller, one of the three leaders of the Stevenson Improv Club.
The improvisational-comedy troupe staged its first performance of the school year on Feb. 11, drawing about 70 guests to the school’s Little Theater. The hour-long, amateur theater show was primarily a series of “improv games,” in which the student-comedians played their way through a multitude of setups, all bearing opportunities for made-on-the-spot humor.
??It takes a whole different level of skill,” said Chris Arnold, a first-year theater teacher and club instructor. “It’s almost like the marriage of art and athletics.”
The troupe includes 19 actors, all selected by club captains Bennett Saltzman, Alex Spitzer and Keller.
When asked about the tryouts earlier in the school year, Keller said the captains were not just looking for the funniest kids. Because the unscripted nature of improv heavily relies on both chemistry and discipline between the players, the three sought others who showed the most ability to make the other actors look better.
Keller said that is one of the three rules of improvisational comedy, as detailed by famed actress Tina Fey in her book “Bossypants.”
“You can definitely tell when someone is helping make the scene better,” Keller said.
On Feb. 11, the crew went through a number of short-form scenes without props during their show. The improv games included “world’s worst,” “ding,” “onion peel,” “four-square,” “freeze” and more.
The rules of which were often too bizarre to explain, and the results of which sometimes defied explanation. Neither Arnold nor Keller would name the club’s funniest individual.
“Everyone has their day,” Arnold said.
The group has come a long way since November, when it began to look for stage time. The search proved difficult because of the high number of other theater projects at Stevenson.
“This year’s actually very tricky,” Arnold said. “This is the first breather a lot of the kids have had in some time. But, they were excited about it.”
More Improv Club performances are in the planning stages, the group said. They may even take the show up the road, to nearby Daniel Wright Junior High. They also hope to schedule another date in the Little Theater before the end of the school year.
That show might prove the last live performance for Keller, but she said the training in improv comedy could be useful in her future career. Though she has not chosen a college yet, she said she hopes to get into advertising.
Both Keller and Arnold discussed how humor can make an imaginary world, like a commercial, appealing to a viewer in the real world.
“If you just react honestly, then that will be funny, rather than trying to be funny,” said Arnold, also drawing from Fey’s recommendations.
“Truth is comedy,” Keller added.
“Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances,” Arnold concluded. “You bring those two together, and you get improv.”