What do The Second City, "The Groundlings," "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office," "Parks and Recreation," "Dog Bites Man," "Halfway Home" and "Reno 911!" have in common?
If you answered they are all examples of comedic improvisation, give yourself a gold star. These groups and shows have reinvigorated and popularized the art of improvisation.
Viola Spolin, who is generally regarded as the mother of improvisation in the American theater, began in the 1930s during the Great Depression. She and her son, Paul Sills, along with Howard Alk and Bernie Sahlins, founded The Second City, which was the incubator for American comedy from the 1960s to today.
David Razowsky, a former classmate of Stephen Colbert at The Second City in 1993, was a guest artist at Maui Improv.
Name a comedian or comic actor--chances are they have a direct connection to The Second City. From Mike Nichols and Elaine May to Steven Colbert and Tina Fey, they all owe a debt of gratitude to Spolin, Sills, Alk and Sahlins.
Now, improv has come to Maui. Every Sunday from 6 to 8:45 p.m. at ProArts Playhouse in Azeka Makai in Kihei and on Wednesdays in Pukalani at 95 Baldwin Ave. from 6:15 to 8:45 p.m., the first 16 people to arrive get the opportunity to participate in a Maui Improv workshop. That's right--there is no signup for these sessions. The guest classes are $40 to $50 and up to $250 for multi-week intensives. Regular classes are $15 and held on a drop-in basis. Only the first 16 get in.
"Sixteen just ensures that everyone gets a lot of work," said Michael Burton, the leader of Maui Improv. "Sometimes we break our own rule because we hate to turn people away."
While Spolin's work focuses on theater games and yields more comedic skits, Maui Improv focuses on long-form improvisation.
"Long-form improvisation is meant to explore relationship-based scene work," said Burton. "Ideally, long-form is entertaining and amusing only as a byproduct of truthful reaction to a relationship, and in turn, relate-ability and the exhibition of life--not the pursuit of a product."
Recently, David Razowsky, a former classmate of Colbert at The Second City in 1993, was the guest artist. What I observed on that night was a very serious, high-level acting class.
Unlike storytelling, which is concerned with the how and why, Razowsky told his students, "How or why doesn't matter. All that matters is the now."
Razowsky's passion and commitment for the work was readily apparent as he encouraged, cajoled, scolded and taught the students. His energy and enthusiasm for the work was infectious.
During the first part of the class, each student was instructed to walk to a door from a fixed point, say "goodbye" and return to that fixed spot. Then the other students would tell the actor what they saw.
Razowsky asked the students "to focus on the moment. If it was, then it is."
He told the students there are no wrong answers, only what they see. He also asked them to, "Look at everything that is happening in nothing!"
"Creativity isn't about manufacturing something out of nothing; it's about noticing what's been happening while you weren't aware," said Razowsky
The second part of the class involved three actors. This time, one goes to the door while two others sat in chairs. After the actor who said goodbye returned to his or her mark, the scene began with one of the actors in the chair saying... something.
Besides Razowsky, Maui Improv has hosted New York-based Mark Beltzman and Louis Kornfeld as guest artists.
"We have many guests in the works," said Burton.
"The workshops are designed to share improvisation and to allow people to be impacted by it," Burton said. "We simply create a space for improvisation, and let the community and the work inside of it grow."
"David set it up for me to have direct experiences--expanded knowing from being more present," said improv student Ann Paquin. "What I am getting is to trust that and make more choices from that place. I found David's work compelling, transformative and powerful. I feel very grateful to Maui Improv for this superb experience."
Another student, well-known Maui actor and singer Karen Stavash, said, "He did an amazing job of teaching some basic concepts in an experiential way. This workshop wasn't about comedy, and most of the scenes were intensely dramatic, but it did seem like it opened the door to doing comedic improv. I would definitely study with him again. He was a refreshing teacher in so many ways."
Burton said that these workshops could lead to the formation of groups, expansion to sketch comedy, videos and regular shows. The first show was last month, and the next one will be held on Sunday, June 29, at 7 p.m. at ProArts Playhouse. Just--show up...