Improv is alive and well at ASU West. Professor Kelly Rafferty of the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences has incorporated longform improvisation into her program this semester, culminating in a performance by her class, monikered Scare Quotes.
Many Torch members visited the campus for the very special show and had a wonderful time. Professor Rafferty was kind enough to talk to us about the class.
What’s the actual name of the class, and what is its focus?
The class is called Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance 434: Production Laboratory. The ASU course catalogue description reads:“Develops original scripts into showcase productions. Students function as theatrical ensemble, participate in all phases of performance and production values.”
Why did you choose to use longform improvisational theatre for this semester?
Unlike a more traditional university theater degree program, the Interdisciplinary Arts and Performance program has (you guessed it) an interdisciplinary orientation. Students study visual art, video, digital interactivity, installation, music and sound art, movement, and performance, and they each have their own ways of combining these approaches to art-making. The program also tends to focus on collaboration across media. I wanted to teach long-form improv within this context because long-form is an amazing training ground for ANY artist (not just for the students who want to be actors or performance artists). And it’s quite possibly the best way to learn collaboration. This is how I explained it in the syllabus:
Long-form improvisation is also a method for honing any artist’s perceptive sensitivity, creative flexibility, and collaborative fluidity. Performers, writers, directors, visual artists, musicians, and other artists can all benefit training in this technique. Our study of long-form improvisation will begin with a series of games and exercises that will introduce you to the core elements of improvisation. As we complete these exercises, we work towards achieving the following objectives:
- To feel more comfortable in your own skin and trust that you are enough
- To become more present in the moment
- To unblock your creative energy and trust your own creative instincts
- To take risks
- To collaborate effectively with others
- To listen and respond honestly
How did the students respond to the class?
I was really impressed with the enthusiasm, commitment, and focus that the students brought to the process. We had a rigorous work schedule – each week they attended just under six hours of class and at least one long-form show, which they had to review – and they always showed up ready to do whatever I asked them to do with integrity. I was also pleasantly surprised by the rapport that developed among the group. It had an exciting edge to it. As an ensemble, they took care of one another, but they weren’t afraid to take risks and test boundaries.
Were there any challenges to getting them to embrace a non-traditional form of theatre?
Possibly because these students are used to working in non-traditional, interdisciplinary arts contexts, they didn’t seem to have set expectations about what a theatre class should or shouldn’t include. Having said that, I think some of them were surprised to find how physical my approach to improv is. I don’t think they were expecting to sweat so much, but they jumped on board once they saw why we were doing what we were doing.
What are your hopes for them as they continue?
I hope that the ones who caught the bug get involved with the valley improv community and keep playing. I hope that all of the students feel inspired to use their newly-strengthened abilities to trust, play, feel, listen, and commit in their art and their relationships.
It was a wonderful night of improv. I hope whatever the students go on to do, they take some of the lessons of improv with them.