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The art of improv

SILVERTHORNE – Some people have nightmares of standing in front of a crowd – suddenly finding themselves naked – but for improv actors, it’s a dream come true.

True, improv zealots don’t go as far as taking their clothes off in front of a crowd, but they do strip themselves bare of scripted acts and let out the first words and behaviors that spontaneously arise from their subconscious minds.

People who take part in improv workshops or performances could be compared to a hybrid of Buddhist monks, extreme sports junkies and plain old drug addicts. Improv is akin to meditation because the players empty their minds, let go of their own agendas and simply go with the flow. As junkies, outrageous artists push spontaneous scenes to the edge, and the adrenaline rush of acting in the moment is as addictive as any drug.



“Improv is like jumping out of an airplane and designing your parachute on the way down,” said Edith Weiss, of the Plastered in Paris troupe.

She describes experiences on stage as adrenaline rushes that supersede physical illnesses and negative emotions.



“When you get on stage, it’s as if nothing else exists,” she said. “I’ve been on stage before when I was sick, but for the hour and a half I was on, I didn’t feel anything. Then I got off stage and threw up.”

Weiss has been doing improv with the Denver-based troupe for about 20 years. The group has traveled nationwide, presenting shows for organizations as diverse as U.S. West, the American Heart Association and Kodak.

She also has taught improv workshops for seven years. People from all walks of life – from lawyers to construction workers attend her workshop, mostly for their own growth.

“Improv changes who you are,” Weiss said. “When you do improv, you’re constantly writing in your head because you don’t know what people are going to say to you. It opens your brain up. As a writer, it enables me to make juxtapositions that I otherwise wouldn’t think of.”

Jane Hazen is a criminal defense lawyer who has attended Weiss’ workshop for seven years to sharpen her wit.

“It’s a way to improve her trial skills – where it’s necessary to be quick on your feet, because basically, of course, trials are theater,” said her husband, John Emelin.

Emelin, a real estate appraiser, takes the classes as a way of staying sane in a crazy world.

“Part of any kind of improv work involves yielding to what’s going on, otherwise it never goes anywhere,” he said. “I’ve found that very helpful for living in a frustrating world,” he said.

Working with – rather than against – various inputs builds self confidence and trust in others.

“The difficulty in improv for a lot of people is not to direct the scene,” said Judy Miller, who worked as a reporter for Channel 7. “(It’s) the whole process of not denying what the other person throws out – and not thinking. You have to be totally immersed in the scene. When you step out of the scene to crack a joke, it’s over. It’s not about jokes. When you try to be funny, then you’ve wrecked it. Humor comes from humanity – the situation, the unexpected.”

It also comes from a commitment to stick with whatever’s happening – even if it’s not an instant hit.

“If you’re starting a scene, and if you’re not getting laughs right away and you stop the scene, that could be death,” said Luanne Buckstein, a player in Plastered in Paris. “If you continue, the audience usually warms up to the idea.”

And performers learn to feel the audiences’ moods.

“It made me a quick study of people,” Weiss said. “One person in an audience can actually change the entire complexion of the audience, so you have to learn how to counteract that. In a crowd, negativity rules the day. If you can handle it, the crowd heaves a collective sigh of relief, and then they’re on your side.”

Even if you’re naked.

An Evening of Improv Comedy with Plastered in Paris

– When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 23

– Where: Silverthorne Pavilion


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