For some — myself included — getting up in front of others and improvising is a recipe for disaster.
But if you add beer to the mix, as Theatre Cedar Rapids has for its monthly improv and beer classes, the idea seems at least a little less daunting.
“The beer helps,” confirmed Zach Parker, TCR’s education director who introduced the classes back in 2013.
“It helps relieve some of that inhibition you might normally have, the judgment of your own thoughts — that can be a killer to creativity,” he said. “We just want everyone to feel free to explore whatever ideas they want and the beer just happens to be part of it.”
Two beers are included in the $75 price of the class ($100 for level two and up), but that doesn’t mean you have to drink to participate.
“Some people drink water and that’s perfectly fine, they’re still very funny,” he said. “Beer is not the end all answer to comedy, but it’s just a way to relax a bit.”
Since the classes began three years ago, Parker said they’ve “blown up,” expanding to include four levels, corporate classes and more recently, two auditioned improv teams — team Eight Horn Unicorn and team JOYRIDE — that periodically perform at TCR, private parties and community events.
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The four-to-six-week classes teach the fundamentals of short- and long-form improv, including the “Harold,” a long-form style of improv and the “yes, and” mentality, which is basically the “mantra” for improv, Parker said.
It’s the idea that whatever concept your acting partner introduces to the scene, you will accept it and adapt to it to build a scene together.
The beauty of improv, after all, is not knowing what’s going to happen. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it does, it’s hilarious and genuine.
“It’s magical to see that comedy come out of nowhere rather than a scripted piece where (the audience) expects something to be funny. Knowing that it’s written takes away some of the magic,” he said.
That’s also why it’s important to avoid forcing the funny.
“You can always tell the difference between funny happening and people trying to be funny,” he said. “Trying to be funny never works. The audiences don’t find that enjoyable. But when you find the funny from the truth of a situation ... That’s really our goal. To find the truth in the comedy and work from that.”
In order for actors to feel comfortable finding the funny, though, a supportive environment is crucial, especially for beginners.
“By default, for some reason, we want to disagree with other people’s ideas and thoughts and use our own instead. We’re kind of selfish that way,” Parker said.
With improv training, instructors hope to “form people’s minds to work together collaboratively,” he added.
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Those collaboration skills can be helpful on and off the stage. For example, learning how to improvise helps people brainstorm, think on their feet and accept other’s ideas without judgment or without judging your own.
“A lot of theater art is getting out of your head,” said James Trainor, an improv instructor at TCR.
“You are your worst enemy when it comes to creating something,” Parker agreed. The challenge is allowing yourself to “be a fool in front of other people for the sake of a scene. ... If you can do that, your creative potential is much larger.”
Once you realize it’s just “adults taking the adult hat off,” putting their “kid hat” on and allowing themselves to play together, the “freedom is intoxicating,” he added.
And it’s not just the beer.
JOIN THE FUN
Take a class
• Go to www.theatrecr.org/improv-beer to view and enroll in TCR’s various improv and beer classes.
• $75 for level one (includes two beers)
• $100 for level two and beyond (also includes two beers)
See a show
• There still are tickets available for the studio improv series featuring the improv teams, Eight Horn Unicorn and JOYRIDE, for $16.
• Team Eight Horn Unicorn: 7:30 p.m. April 30 or 2:30 p.m. May 1.
• Team Joyride: 10 p.m. April 30.