After an eight-week course with a local improv theater company, students took the stage to test their new skills. Video clips capture many of the unscripted moments.
At the end of an eight-week improv course directed by BATS improv, a coed group of fourth graders took the Syufy Theatre stage to perform in front of an audience for the first time. With simple prompts from a teacher or the audience, students spontaneously acted out short skits, creating their own original characters and stories without a script.
"Students became more confident, and some really came out of their shells," says Alexa Johnson, Stuart Hall Lower Form dean. "It was interesting and sometimes surprising to see who has a natural affinity for improv and who enjoys the spotlight on stage."
Improv, short for improvisation, is a form of non-scripted live theater; the BATS approach invites students to listen and respond to their classmates with an emphasis on support and acceptance of all ideas. BATS Improv is a professional theater company based at Fort Mason and has been teaching the art form to Convent & Stuart Hall fourth graders for the past eight years. "BATS instructors are wonderful to work with," Alexa says, adding that their "ability to help children feel comfortable taking risks has been so valuable."
While improv has benefits for students of all ages, fourth graders are especially "open to embracing new experiences and tapping into their vulnerabilities," according to Alexa. "We also want to support the development of relationships across school divisions before students start Middle Form," she adds.
The course starts with an introduction to improv and how it differs from a scripted play or musical. Then, in four coed groups, students learn warm-up exercises and games. Scenes include a "taxi" skit where passengers enter an imaginary car with a small quirk or idiosyncrasy that is eventually caught by all the others, a "newscast" with a reporter narrating an activity on stage, and "line talk," where students tell a story one word at a time based on a prompt.
The benefits of improv are numerous: creativity, collaboration, flexibility, critical thinking, resilience, stage presence and public speaking are all skills Alexa points out. In the final showcase performance, students demonstrated all those traits and more. BATS-style improv is "all about the story, not the joke," according to their website, but improv is often naturally hilarious. "Students are encouraged to let all facets of their personality shine," Alexa says. "The more 'out of the box' the better."
Clips from the fourth grade improv showcase on March 15, 2019. Video by Anna Alton, Grade 4.