Improv class teaches people to ‘roll with the punches’

Improvisation has forced Jean-Michel Cliche to transition from acting as a rugged zombie hunter to a cute squirrel within seconds.

That incident took place 10 years ago on a stage at La Gougoune, a high school improv competition.

But he said at that moment he knew he was exactly where he wanted to be.

“[It taught me] whatever happens, I can roll with the punches.”

That scene is the essence of improv, said the manager of Hot Garbage Comedy, a Fredericton improvisation ensemble. Now he’s giving others the chance to fall in love with the art form like he did.  He’s teaching people how to hone their improv abilities in his new workshop, Improv 101.

In the Improv 101 class, Jean-Michel Cliche and the other lead instructor, Kirsten Stackhouse, teach how to think and react quickly. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“We also let people try stuff and make mistakes, and then talk about the fact that it’s no big deal,” said Cliche.

The class has about 30 participants. During instruction time, Cliche and the other lead instructor, Kirsten Stackhouse, teach how to think and react quickly.

Stackhouse said there are four key elements to improvisation: be positive, say yes to others’ improvisation ideas, be a team and build on what’s naturally there.

Cliche said learning to be vulnerable is also important.

“There is no wrong answer here. We just get to play. We just get to have fun.”

Stackhouse said she prefers improvising to acting from a script. With improv, there’s no chance of forgetting your lines.

At the end of the workshop, the improv class will put on a public show at Charlotte Street Arts Centre. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“You can just live in the moment. There’s no worrying ahead of time,” said Stackhouse.

Cliche believes everyone should try improv at least once in their life. He’s even had business people join improv classes to work on their communication skills. He said you don’t need a background in theatre to try it out.

“Improv is communication training. And it’s empathy training,” he said. “Improv is really just a fancy way of talking about how we understand language and how we understand the communication that a group of people can have amongst themselves.”

At the end of the workshop, the improv class will put on a public show at Charlotte Street Arts Centre. Ultimately, the actors will decide the plot and format of their performance, Cliche said.

“I feel very fortunate. Every single person in that room was a joy to work with tonight, and we’re really, really looking forward to the next eight weeks.”

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