From students to stars
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
When looking at the roster of current mainstage performers at the Upfront Theatre, a common theme soon emerges.
Research indicates that at least five actors who regularly head onstage at the longtime improv-focused theater first learned their creative craft as members of Western Washington University’s Dead Parrots Society. Dig deeper into the list of Upfront alumni over the past 14 years, and the number of those who first learned to think and act in the moment at the institute of higher learning up the hill becomes even larger.
“Improv is a craft that encourages crossover,” Upfront general manager and performer Billy Tierney says. “It is common for people to get involved in improv in college and then for them to desire to do it more professionally either once they graduate or even in tandem with their college experience.
“Our current artistic director, Kris Erickson, is a former AD of the Dead Parrots. In fact, we have had several former Dead Parrot ADs join our mainstage ensemble over the years. Overall, when people love improvisation and they go from having an outlet in a college group to being in the world without, they seek us out.”
Of course, that’s not to say everyone who attends the Welcome Back Students shows taking place at 7:30pm and 9:30pm this Friday and Saturday at the Bay Street venue will feel the calling to make improvisational comedy part of their everyday lives. But after watching an hour-and-a-half of both short-form games and long-form improv, those in the audience will have a better idea of what it’s all about.
“It will be like a sneak peak behind the curtain of what we do year-round, but encapsulated into four hilarious ‘Welcome Back’ shows,” Tierney says.
Students and members of the public who watch a show and do feel the need to learn more about listening, being in the moment and getting out of their own heads can also look to the Upfront’s School of Improv for guidance. At last glance, there were still spaces available for weekly “Intro to Improv” classes beginning Sun., Sept. 30 and Mon., Oct. 1 and continuing through late November.
If additional schooling isn’t something you have time for right now, you can still learn by watching. In addition to now selling popcorn and hotdogs, the Upfront is back to doing at least six shows a week after the summer break.
“On the performance side of things we are continually working on staying sharp and connected with one another, and we’re also sticking to certain things that work for us well,” Tierney says. “For example, this October will be the twelfth consecutive October of running our improvised murder mystery, ‘Hellingham. ’ So even though the show’s been brought back so many times, we’ve tinkered with it and adjusted it to be great all the time and worked on our improv enough to have each show stand out and be riotously funny.”
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