Improv Comes to UA
For the first time in several years, the drama department at the UA is offering an improv acting class for students. Professor Kris Stoker taught the class this summer and is teaching it this semester as well.
The class teaches a type of acting called improvisation. “Improv acting is when the performance is made up completely on the spot. When you are doing improv you are the director, author and performer all in one,” Stoker said.
Stoker has an MFA in acting and has worked for the Cincinatti Shakespeare Company and TheaterSquared. He also studied improv with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City.
“Kris is awesome. Even though he is very advanced with his own improv skills, he was able to meet each of us at our own level and push us, in a very positive way, to be better,” said Robert Hart, UA graduate student.
“There were no tests, no written work of any kind. We learned the rules of improv and started slowly, adding another step each time. Mostly it was ‘get up on your feet and do it,’ a lot of trial and error. We learned by doing,” Hart said.
Robert Hart and Brittany Daniels both took the class this summer and really enjoyed it. “It could not have gone better. The way the professor structured it was totally successful. We weren’t sure about some of the stuff at the beginning, but looking back, I see now how those things that didn’t make sense totally make sense now,” Daniels said.
“Something that’s terrifying about improv but also exhilarating is that you’re going on stage with absolutely no idea what is going to happen and where you are going to go. It’s never going to be anything you’ve ever done before. It’s the type of art form where you can just clear your head and respond to what happens to you,” Stoker said.
Stoker’s favorite part about teaching the class was to see the improvement in his students. He especially loved watching people come out of their shells. He shared his experience of watching one of his students do exactly that.
“When he came in he was definitely reserved and held back a little bit on expressing himself in that class. Once I helped him realize that he was holding back, he came in the next day and was completely unlocked, and it was so much fun to watch. He was just trying anything, and after that he was one of my favorites because he would come in with such great ideas based on something that would help a scene out and move it along, even if it was just a tiny bit. Moments like that with students where you just see something switch is when I’m happiest and know I’m doing my job,” Stoker said.
The class is not limited to theater majors, so anyone can take it.
“Improv is something anyone can benefit from. You learn how to be comfortable thinking on the spot and responding to people and being able to accept ideas. It’s not only taught in theater programs; they have people come in and do improv with business people, corporations, and scientists too,” Stoker said.
“I’d recommend it to anyone really. It gives you an angle on life you might not have seen before,” Daniels said. “For example, I realized how comedy is not just acting silly all the time. It’s about truth.”