On Stage

DPS Fest

An improv intensive

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

When it comes to college curriculums, it’s generally not advisable to tell students they can make up answers as they go along.

The dynamic changes, however, when collegians seeking a creative outlet—or simply a break from their books—turn their attention to the art of improvisation.

For example, for the past 20 years Western Washington University’s Dead Parrots Society has encouraged its members to think outside the box when it comes to learning. With an alumni list a mile long, the current troupe remains committed to bringing its audiences the “finest college improv has to offer.”

That performance prowess will be on display March 8-10, when the campus collective hosts its fourth annual DPS Festival. Shows featuring current and past members of the Dead Parrots Society—as well as college improvisors from around the Pacific Northwest—can be attended at 7pm Thursday and Saturday at the university’s Old Main Theater, and an 8pm offering Friday will see members of the Upright Citizens Brigade and featured performer Mary Holland sharing their professional improv chops at the Performing Arts Center mainstage.

At Thursday’s show, the locals will be joined by teams from the University of Alberta (the Notorious UIG), Central Washington University (Hot New Jam), and pro Terry Withers. On Saturday, Withers will again be on the lineup along with mainstage members of the Upfront Theatre, along with teams from the University of British Columbia (UBC Improv), University of Victoria (Yes Ampersands), University of Washington (The Collective), and the University of Portland (Actually Gavin Improv).

In a recent interview featured on his school’s website, Tyson Redding, the president of Actually Gavin Improv, theorized that learning how to improvise can help one become not just a better student, but also a better person.

“Improv can help in everyday life,” he explained. “It helps you think on your feet, react more honestly to situations and listen to others and really hear them.

“So many people, friends and classmates say, ‘That sounds fun, but I can’t do it. I’m not funny’ or ‘I can’t think on my feet.’ What I want people to know is that improv is for everyone. It is not just about being silly; it is a craft that you can work on and improve on. The brain is like a muscle, and the part of the brain that you use for improv needs to be worked out regularly. If you put in the time and effort, you can be a good improviser too!”

That’s good advice to keep in mind if this weekend’s shows inspire you to want to learn more. The Dead Parrots Society holds rehearsals open to students of all experience levels every Tuesday, and the Upfront Theatre and Improv Playworks also offer beginning classes on a regular basis, proving that when it comes to improv, it’s never too late to learn a thing or two—even if you’re making it up as you go along.

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