In Improv, It’s Not About You

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Second City cast member Kevin Sciretta points at Rebecca Hayes, a Bradford High School student, as he leads a conducted story exercise during the improv workshop at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Next to her are cast member Jamison Webb, Tremper High School student Moira Chiu, Parkside theater students Joe Romanak and Kara Foster as well as other Second City cast member Erin Lann. The workshop preceded Second City’s performance Saturday night at Parkside. ( KENOSHA NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN POIRIER )

SOMERS — Improvisational theater isn’t about being funny; it’s about listening, saying yes, supporting your partners and trusting that whatever happens will be OK.

Two members of the cast of Second City’s “Happily Ever Laughter” helped about 40 people with that at a workshop Saturday afternoon, several hours before their show at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Dana Quercioli and Kevin Sciretta put people through their improv paces, with excercises designed to free the brain from its idea editor. How else would stories called “Sometimes Eggplants are Orange” get written, by three people working together, and one word at a time.

That’s where those rules come in. Always say “Yes, and…” It’s a way of jumping on board with someone and joining them, rather than pulling away and judging the idea.

“We try to foster the most supportive environment possible,” Sciretta said of The Second City crew. “It’s not, ‘I’m funny; get out of my way.’ We try to engender this supportive environment.“

They need that support, because during an improv show — or when things go off-book on a scripted one — the other actors are the ones who have your back.

“You hear ‘No’ a lot in your daily life,” Sciretta said.

Quercioli took over.

“In improv, you find a way to do it,” she said. “You’re only limited by your lack of imagination.”

Importance of listening

To get those answers, though, takes listening. Planning ahead in a scene is a sure way to stop the momentum. That’s where their excersises came in.

Starting one of the goofy stories that grow out of an audience prompt isn’t the hard part. It takes careful listening to everyone working on the problem to keep the momentum going and the plot moving forward.

They have to fight against the urge to build a scene out in their heads, to really listen to what everyone else is bringing and be ready to support them.

“You’re not the most important person on stage,” Quercioli said. “Your partner is the most important person on the stage.”

Off-stage effects

Both said they found their work in improvisation — particularly in The Second City’s supportive culture — informed how they acted off-stage, too.

Sciretta said there were several things he started to do differently after his work with the group. He found himself really listening to what people were saying, not planning ahead what he was going to say next, and compartmentalizing his own judgments.

“To not judge on what people are wearing or what bands people like,” he said. “I would stop friendships over that. Louis C.K. talked about that in an interview, about listening and trying not to judge, but to understand.”

Quercioli said she has always been a very empathetic person, and that improv theater helped her become OK with being emotional, and able to express those emotions. Like Sciretta, she said it also has helped her focus in on what people say to her.

“It’s made me a better person,” she said.