In Spring of 2017 I was elected artistic director of U of C Commedia, which meant that I was in charge of planning and implementing a 10-week training course in fall to teach our new members movement, mask work, and improv theater basics. From this experience I learned a lot about structuring a long term instruction plan and about ways to encourage people to be silly together.
One of the things that was most successful was the flexibility of the schedule. I built in some redundancies so that if folks missed one day they would still get all the information they needed and in case I needed to cancel a rehearsal we wouldn't fall behind. The most successful individual training session was in week 7 when we wrote the showcase scenario together. The noobs (our official term for them in the bylaws of the organization) learned how to write a scenario by reading two successful shows that we had previously performed and then by thinking through the different parts of each show. We then thought about how each noob wanted to introduce their character to the larger performing arts community. With their newfound understanding of the structure of a Commedia Scenario and keeping in mind our discussion they dictated to me while I wrote down what they said on the chalk board. After they wrote their show, we did a pass through to make sure that all the loose ends were tied up and to be sure everyone accomplished their goals for their character. Not only did this give them ownership over the final product of their 10 weeks of training but also created a crop of people who were able to write shows for the group this year.
One of the things I would do differently would be to ease into the serious training. We started doing serious Commedia stuff in second week before the noob class had really gotten to know each other and that meant that they were uncomfortable doing silly things in a serious way. In the moment, I switched back to doing fun, silly improv exercises before switching back to serious training to give time to get comfortable experimenting and being silly. This was extremely beneficial for them, so in the future I would plan to do that rather than have the first movement day be so early since it was a bit of a wash without that willingness to experiment. In the library setting, this would mean establishing a tone that promoted experimentation and a light atmosphere in the beginning in a more intentional way than I may have in the past.
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