On Stage

Improv Insights

Finding the momentum

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Oona Cava is the type of person you’d want to have on hand at the scene of an accident.

That’s because in addition to being wicked smart, the longtime improviser and instructor is calm in a crisis, a quick thinker and nimble in both spirit and form. (As a fellow Upfront Theatre alum, I speak from personal experience.)

In other words, if she finds someone trapped in a burning house or in a vehicle by the side of the road, Cava will likely do her damnedest to quickly suss out the situation and remove them from danger. Similarly, if someone is in one of her improv classes and stalls in the middle of a scene, she’s going to do everything it takes to quell their fears and help them move forward by getting them out of their heads, and into the here and now.

“In some ways learning to improvise is like learning to drive a car,” Cava says. “You do have to put in a lot of time to learn how to absorb the techniques for how to do it, and also the ‘rules of the road,’ so that you don’t immediately crash into other drivers. But the more you do it, the sooner you make those things second nature, so that you can focus on the present moment.”

If this is the type of driver’s training that interests you, consider signing up for the first of Cava’s Momentum Improvisation Lab classes starting Tues., Sept. 12 at the Sylvia Center for the Arts. Cava says the focus of the series—which is meant for people who have at least eight weeks of previous improv experience—will be to either introduce or reintroduce improvisers to scene-based work. A desire to perform in front of an audience is not necessary, nor is a theater background.

Playful connection, trust, stagecraft, vocal projection and audience involvement will be covered in the class, which is meant to act as a stepping stone to both long-form improv (where short scenes are often interrelated by a story, character or theme) and short-form improv games (like you’d see on Whose Line Is It Anyway?). Through it all, Cava will be in the driver’s seat to make sure her students are not only learning how to be better improvisers, but also better people.

“Improv is a state of flow, and when you can share that state with other improvisers, it is one of the most powerful ways to experience being alive,” she says. “And while it is true that you have to spend time learning to be in this flow state, it is also true that almost every improv exercise give you the opportunity to experience that, so every class you take gives you time in that flow state. And that is where having a good teacher comes in. They should be able to hold a space that feels safe, respectful and inspiring to all their students.”

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