Improv group focuses on group dynamic

Improvised performance is an outlet for spontaneous artistic expression rather than the result of weeks of preparation.

Fueled by the variability and risk associated with this type of drama, members of the high school’s improvised drama group, Needs Improvment, strive to strengthen each other in performances rather than focusing on individual achievement.

According to improv teacher Mark Vanderzee, the improv class started as an X-block club proposed by a student. Greater interest in the program led to a semester class and then into a full-year course.

Vanderzee said that improv is special because it puts an emphasis on students’ own work.

“I fancy as a teacher, obviously I’m there to help build foundational skills, but I’m really there to help guide the ensemble and to help the ensemble discover itself,” Vanderzee said.

Senior Rianna Cranberg, a captain of the group, said that she first became inspired by the improv group her freshman year, which spurred her to audition.

Cranberg said that the group is currently working on acknowledging and strengthening each other’s weaknesses to create a more cohesive unit.

“We’re building a troupe where we feel comfortable with each other enough that we feel that it’s okay to take risks, it’s okay to fail in front of each other and it’s going to be fine and no one is going to judge anyone for it,” Cranberg said.

Vanderzee said that failure and redemption are two important aspects to improv.

“It’s unavoidable, so to figure out how to deal with that in the moment is really important, and to stay on your feet and not let it wreck you,” Vanderzee said.

Senior Gabe Doyle, a returning member to the group this year, said that a successful improv performer must love to fail.

“The things you’re not going to do as well in are the things that you’re not used to doing,” Doyle said. “The most interesting scene work comes from things that you’re not doing all the time.”

Doyle also said a reliance on team members is important. This allows fellow improv performers to build relationships that can improve their performance.

“You get a lot better at working with other people because you’re working with them in a high-stress, high-intensity situation,” Doyle said.

Senior Matthew Morgan, the other captain of the group, said he recognizes the paradoxical mentality that a person needs when performing improv.

“What I think is kind of counterintuitive is that you have to be as focused as possible when you’re doing improv because the whole point is actively listening and thinking about either what a scene needs or what you need to do to make a scene better,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, the importance of communication between members is vital in order to further develop a scene.

“If you’re throwing out an idea and you clearly want someone else to come into the scene or you clearly want someone to do something to make this story better, then a good improvisor is good at doing that and picking that up,” Morgan said.

Junior Katie Suh, a new member of the improv group, noted the unexpected difficulty of improv.

“I’ll go into a scene with a very specific idea of where I want it to go, and what I want to happen, but you have no control over the other person in the scene,” Suh said. “We could start talking about trees, and then we could end up talking about Donald Trump”

Suh also said that risk of self-deprecation is an integral part of improv.

“There are a lot of times when you’ll make yourself look like an idiot so that somebody else can do something great in a scene,” Suh said. “Good people in improv are able to set other people up for greatness as opposed to just setting themselves up.”

Cranberg said she understands the importance of recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of her fellow improv students. According to an her, a good improv performer uses these strengths and weaknesses in order to aid her fellow performers.  

“I think being a good improver is focusing on helping the person next to you,” Cranberg said, “as opposed to just taking all the fame for yourself.”