Times Chronicle & Public Spirit


Acting techniques benefit public speaking, social skills

- By M. English

Darryl Spencer believes improv can make just about anyone’s life better.

Interested? Consider signing up for the “Improv Your Life” class scheduled for four Tuesdays, May 7-28 from 6 to 8:30 p.m., at Greater Plymouth Community Center. No desire to become a comedian? No problem. Thinking of improv as solely a synonym for comic standup routines is common but incorrect. As Spencer puts it, “improv is so much more.”

“Most people think of it in terms of stand-up, someone onstage talking to an audience, making jokes,” he says. “That’s a very common misconcept­ion. That and the idea that all improv is comedy. At its most basic, improv means spur-of-the-moment. Nothing prepared. Nothing written down or planned out. Whatever strikes you to say or do, usually with at least one partner and, as most people have experience­d it, adding to a word or thought someone in the audience has thrown out.

“For example, someone in the audience says ‘catsup.’ That’s only a suggestion. You don’t have to go on a tangent about ‘this new bottle of Heinz I just found.’ You could say, ‘Catsup makes me think of French fries and growing up as a kid and going to the diner with my mom.’ Then, you’re talking about childhood memories. Catsup is just a jumping-off point, just like improv is really a lot of different things.”

Among the latter? A “fun and easy way for just about anyone to improve their conversati­onal skills and learn to think on their feet and be more creative when they find themselves in certain social situations or business situations,” Spencer says.

“One hundred per cent,” he continues. “And that’s exactly what my company helps people do. Believe it or not, I’m an introvert. But a friend got me to take my first improv class maybe 10 year ago or so, and it changed my life. It opened up a whole new world for me. I still have introvert tendencies. Like meeting a bunch of new people, I can go into my shell a little bit. But that doesn’t last for very long, because I rely on the improv that has taught me to kind of just go with the flow. Basically, pick up on what people are talking about and find some commonalit­y, something I’m familiar with that connects to what they’re saying.”

In short, Spencer says, the skills he learned in improv classes and during his career as a profession­al improv performer, teacher and coach are just as applicable offstage — at a party, on a date, during a job interview, networking with colleagues, team-building, “in just about any setting or situation where people are talking to each other.”

Happily, he reasons, the warm-up games, exercises and techniques that hone those skills “are a whole lot of fun.”

“You basically learn how to think outside the box and work in conjunctio­n with other people,” Spencer says. “The workshops I do for people who aren’t improviser­s, they love them. They’re not trying to become (profession­al improviser­s). They just want to have a good time, and they always end up saying ‘This is so much fun. I get to act like a kid again.’ I’ve even had people say, ‘This

was like therapy…I really enjoyed myself because I could express myself and there was no judgment.’”

Spencer’s GPCC workshop will mirror those he’s already done for several area libraries and adult evening schools.

“It’s very versatile,” he says. “We do games and warmups … like one of the classic warm-ups we do is called ‘Zip,

Zap, Zop.’ You stand in a circle, point at someone and go ‘zip.’ Then, that person points to someone else and says ‘zap,’ and that person points to someone else and says ‘zop.’ This keeps going around the circle, and it gets faster and faster. Sometimes, you don’t point. You just use eye contact. So, you have to pay attention. Focus.

 ?? PHOTO COURTESY DARRYL SPENCER ?? Improv coach and instructor Darryl Spencer and his dog Bagel.
PHOTO COURTESY DARRYL SPENCER Improv coach and instructor Darryl Spencer and his dog Bagel.

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