Improving Through Improv – Graduation At The Torch Theatre

Guest post by Shane Shellenbarger

In 1971, while attending Frank Borman Junior High, my friend, Bob Limbaugher decided to run for Student Body President and he asked me to be his campaign manager. I agreed and began the work of arranging all of the minutia associated with a political campaign. The day before the election, Bob reminded me that we had an assembly in the Student Hall and that I was required to speak on his behalf. I did not sleep well that night. I prepared a speech, but I catastrophized all evening. The next morning, I made it to school under a cloud of self-doubt. My sense of time seemed out of whack. Classes which had always seemed to drag, flew by as the afternoon assembly loomed ever nearer. The lunch break came and went in a flash and before I knew where the day had gone it was time to speak.

I would like to tell you that I was fine, that the speech went well and that Bob won by a landslide. No, it did not. When it was my turn to speak, I shakily made my way up to the podium, gripped my notes as if they would fly away, stood before the microphone, and froze. I don’t know if it was the size of the crowd, the insecurity of being before my peers and fearing their opinions, or if was the feeling that Bob’s entire campaign hinged on what I said in the next few minutes, but I froze and could not utter a word. Bob lost the campaign.

The memory of that moment haunted me for decades, through high school, through college, and through my vocational career. It wasn’t until 2009, when I took my first improvisation workshop, that I faced my fear head on.

I discovered that the Phoenix Improv Festival (put on by The Torch Theatre) had workshops, so I signed up for one taught by Chuck Charbeneau. It was a small class, and enjoyed the games and interaction. It was then that I decided to take classes offered by The Torch Theatre.

I originally took classes because I wanted to use improvisation to improve my response, flexibility, and ease of delivery for voice acting. Improv has helped me do that and more. I have discovered a comfort on stage which surprised me. I also was delighted to find a community of intelligent people who are filled with passion for the craft of longform improvisation. These people have pushed themselves out of their comfort zones and out of the pigeon holes they were placed into by others. They are exploring their own vulnerability and what the human experience means to the performer and to the audience.

On September 29, 2009 I took the stage for the sixth time with my fellow Level VI students as our troupe, “What Maslow Needs.” We created a form over the past eight weeks we called “Dali,” a format which uses art created by our audience to inspire performance and scene work. After the show, our instructor, José Gonzalez, presented us with our diplomas as graduates of The Torch Theatre Longform Training Center.

I now have no fear of speaking, singing, or performing in front of an audience, thanks to the instructors and students of The Torch Theatre.

Shane Shellenbarger is a recent graduate of The Torch Theatre Longform Training Center and currently performs with Xchane and Euphonius. Thanks, Shane, for being a part of our community!

Posted in classes, Improv, Torch bearers

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