Alexander Cherry is a staple at most Torch shows, you’ll know him by his shorn head and shirt that says “I had brain surgery, what’s your excuse?” And it’s true. He has had brain surgery. I’ve been in class with Alexander for the last few months, and have performed with him in numerous ways such as “The Sad Show” and our graduation showcase of “The Bridge.” This man has stories to tell. We all come to theatre and improv for lots of reasons, so I asked Alexander about his path to the Torch.
How did you discover improv?
I’m involved in the tabletop role playing world, which shares a lot of traits with improvisational theatre. At the same time, I’ve always enjoyed theatre in general (I was in many productions in high school, including a school-wide written musical; and took a standard theatre class at ASU in 2005, which involved some improv techniques/games). In 2006, some friends of mine in that world mentioned that they’d done some improv training, and found it to help them with their games. Sadly, they were off in New England. So I started looking for improv classes locally: and found a class taught by Matt Rosin, of a now-defunct group called The Originals. At that time, The Originals were the only local group I was aware of, and students could attend shows for free. So I took Matt’s beginning class: twice (the idea was that an advanced class would eventually appear, but sadly, it never did. ) I finished in 2007, and by that point had nurtured a love of the form in and of itself (though I agree, it does help with RPGs). Eventually, The Originals performed at The Paper Heart, a sadly now-defunct arts venue. It was either the Phoenix Neutrino Project or Galapagos that performed with them – that opened my eyes to more improv in the city. I learned about that year’s Phoenix Improv Festival (PIF6?)and became, seemingly, the only individual to sit through every single show at a PIF, or at least the first. Being a new face, there all the time, this made several people intrigued enough to approach me. I remember Bri Klink (now Bri de Ruiz) was the first person to say hello to me. Later, Jacque invited me to a “let’s get rid of this excess keg” party at her house, which at that point had a pool, and they talked about their nascent Torch ideas. I was excited, but also sad: I had plans to leave the country and spend the summer in Spain.
Tell me about your relationship to the Torch – how are you involved with them?
As you can see from the previous question, I was tangentially involved in the Torch founding. Not in any substantial way, just happened to be around. That summer in Spain turned into a week, thanks to the unfortunate emergence of a brain tumor, that necessitated an emergency trip back to the States where it could be taken care of. Luckily, I managed to recover, at least enough to be a part of the very first Torch classes. Got a second cancer diagnosis while taking classes, but despite the chemotherapy, I managed to graduate from the original Level IV, which at that point was the final level of their program. After that point, the Torch organized a fundraiser for my medical and living costs. I’m still very grateful. Thanks to the chemotherapy and other recovery, I kind of dropped out of sight for a year. When I emerged from my cave, I decided it was time to re-do my entire training, between my recovery and my time away from the practice. I met a lot of my best and closest friends through the Torch (and, sadly, have lost a few).
What do you think improv does for people? What do you think it does for you? How has it affected you?
Clearly, it causes cancer.
But, all kidding aside, there’s research that shows that improv games(and let’s face it, what helps build group mind tends to be the games) have strong neurological benefits. It builds new pathways, encourages creativity and the ability to react to unfamiliar situations. Besides the neurological benefits, I think it gives me an opportunity to express myself, and to play (creatively) with awesome people. It’s also one of the few times in my life where I can actually feel supported in whatever I do. Given everything else that I’ve been through while I’ve discovered improv, it’s rather difficult to decipher how it’s affected me. But I think it’s safe to say that it’s rekindled my interests in all sorts of creative endeavours. Although I’ve long styled myself a writer, it wasn’t until after I started improv that I returned to writing, and managed to actually finish a project.
What was your biggest light bulb moment in improv class? (light bulb moment, referring to a moment of clarity and understanding)
I think most of what I take away from improv are slow burns, not lightbulb moments. It all mixes together in a melting pot, so it’s honestly rather difficult to pick any one, especially with my memory the way it is (chemo messed me up a lot). Improv, in general, is a massive string of light bulb moments.
What was your favorite moment on stage as a performer? What was your favorite moment to watch as an audience member?
I don’t generally think in terms of favorites, and with my memory the way it is, it’s hard to remember. However, while it’s not ‘on stage’ I enjoyed my first time being involved in the Phoenix Neutrino Project,where I decided to volunteer myself as a ‘prop’. I only showed up in segments 2 and 3, but that was absolutely enjoyable. I got to watch the creation of the movies while only being tangentially involved. As an audience member? This is even more difficult, because there are so many great moments, and so many of them can’t be described without context. Watching the Remainders for the first time blew my mind. But I think my absolute favorite was the Apollo 12 show at PIF6, which was amazing and chaotic, and at some point Stacey Gordon walked off stage and brought Noah on stage. She asked him a question (I forget what that question was) and he said ‘no’ and she answered ‘That’s not good improv’ and that was when the lights went out.
What is your favorite non-improv related activity?
I’m a geek. I enjoy games of all kinds (board, card, rpg – honestly,only video games have a tendency to bore me quickly). I also enjoy storytelling: writing stories, rpgs again – and, of course, reading books and otherwise drinking in stories (TV, movies, etc. )
Finish this sentence: Improv is like _____________ because it is______________.
forgive the slight alteration:
Improv is like Life Cereal because everyone likes it, even Mikey!