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Life's funniest moments are often unplanned. This couldn't be more true for the renegade art form of improvisation. By its definition, improv is impromptu drama. A group of individuals, be they well-trained or well-meaning, get together and create moments that often turn into comedy gold.

Luckily, U of T has recently experienced a resurgence in improv's presence on campus. There are classes, workshops and teams accessible to all improvisers of all levels.

Spending a Saturday evening at an improvisation class might seem like a bit of a stretch for many, but considering the turn out at the Arbor Room for Hart House’s “Improvisation” class, it might lead you to reconsider.

Julian Frid, a U of T philosophy students, master improviser and class instructor, is a high-spirited individual with a personality that makes every single one of his participants comfortable and at ease. The premise of this class is to explore the fundamentals of the burgeoning art form of improv.

Described as a learning environment that is both casual and supportive, participants are encouraged to lose all inhibitions and critical thinking and just go with the flow.

“Improv treats every interaction as a game,” says Frid, and this was exemplified in the many improv challenges of the afternoon. The participants were split into groups and asked to take part in story telling games, in order to help the classmates make the most of what they were given and work as a team. These sorts of interactions forced participants to think spontaneously and creatively.

A majority of the class were grad students, who enrolled for similar reasons. “I want to work on my social skills, I find myself getting stuck in conversations,” one participant said. Another stated, “As part of my New Year’s resolution, I wanted to do something I would never usually do.” Frid’s engaging teaching approach emphasizes a relaxed atmosphere, and above all, fun.

Fun and laughter are the cornerstones of another improv presence on campus: the recently revitalized U of T Improv. Team president Frannie Heeney described improv as a sort of school of life.

“Improv is great because it relates to so many parts of life, not just being on stage. Improv is an opportunity to really work your brain in a new capacity, work quickly on your feet, increase your ability to react quickly, speak in public (with no fear) and, most importantly, it is really an opportunity to have a lot of fun.”

U of T Improv is structured in such a way as to be accessible to people of all improv backgrounds. The General Club is open to all, “no matter your experience level with Improvisation,” whereas the Performance Team, consisting of 10 members, performs at monthly shows and various competitions across Canada, next taking part in McGill Improv Summit on February 12th.

Heeney describes the monthly open club workshop as “jam sessions which offer a friendly environment for anyone to learn the basics of improvisation.” For people new to the art form and not yet ready to come out of their shells, U of T Improv holds monthly shows at Sammy’s at Hart House.

The art of improvisation involves a lot of venturing outside one’s comfort zone, but Heeney promises the hard work to be worth every nervous sweat drop. “Training your brain to think quickly, make connections in related, and sometimes unusual ways as well as learning how to listen to those around you, are skills that are important for life, not only improv.”

A misconception about improv is that it requires no practice, and is basically a lot of fun fooling around. On the contrary, says Heeney. “The more improv you do, the more naturally you can follow your impulses and the better your reactions become, and of course, practice makes perfect.”

Perhaps the most enduring part of involvement in improv is the people you meet. It’s easy to get lost in the crowd at a huge university like U of T, but small, tight-knit communities and classes can provide a safe haven for lone wolves seeking a dramatic outlet. Heeney elaborates, “Improv forms a community that is very particular and fantastic. This is because when you are improvising, you drop your barriers, you don’t worry about appearing the fool and you go with your impulse. When you get a group of people together experimenting, making mistakes and having a good time, you can’t help but to form a fantastic community. By becoming involved in improv you will have so many opportunities, and really, there are no downfalls.”

For more information on how you can get involved in improv at U of T, visit U of T Improv’s Facebook page. For more information Hart House’s “Improvisation” class, visit harthouse.utoronto.ca, and click on “Recreation.”

Additional Info

  • Subtitle: U of T dives headfirst into the comedy of life with an improv revival
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