Central High's Improv group riffs 'high-level comedy'
If you go
What: Improvisational comedy show
When: 7-9 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), May 22
Where: Black Box Theater, Central High School, 601 Mundis Mill Road, Springettsbury Township
Tickets: Available at the door, open at 6:30 p.m., or through Ben Hodge at firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Twitter @CYHS_Improv and @BenHodgeStudios
Central York High School student Jalen Pacheco stood on stage Tuesday, motioned to classmate Ashley Crowther and declared, "This is 'Shaquille O'Neal Finds Bigfoot' ... as you can see, we found Bigfoot."
A minute later, the diminutive Ashley is on stage solo, telling the crowd that she might be a bit hairier than everyone else, but c'mon people, she's still human.
Minutes before, Megan Conway, Caroline Ward and Emma Lomicky presented their own riff on Bigfoot — a woman with unusually large feet tries to cram them into a pair of $2,000 Louis Vuitton heels.
Long-form improvisational comedy is crafted spontaneously in front of a crowd after one-word topics are shouted out, but there's a lot of studying required beforehand.
"It's really high-level comedy ... not easy stuff to do it at all," Ben Hodge, the group's teacher, said.
Central's group formed in October 2013, when Hodge found a manual on the art form by the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade, then hand-picked students he thought would do well in a school group.
Since then, the 30-member group has taken field trips to the brigade's New York City school, performed shows for students during school hours, and just launched shows for the public, held at Central's Black Box Theater.
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"We had standing room only for our first (public) event, with very little marketing," Hodge said.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 17 members of the group gathered in Hodge's classroom, where he put them through some warm-ups, including passing around an imaginary object called the "Gracious Goat."
Next, it was time for stage work. From the first idea, "peanut butter," there were three skits: A woman giving peanut butter to a dog, much to the chagrin of her daughter; a girl trick or treating — for herself and two imaginary friends; and a group who make the world's biggest peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or so they think.
Hodge offers encouragement, like "There's no wrong idea" but also constructive criticism, when he tells one student not to try to control the skit if the other performer has a concrete direction.
And that's the bigger picture, not going to Juilliard or Broadway, but learning life lessons like listening and teamwork, Hodge said. And in performing live shows, the audience learns to be respectful and appreciate the challenging art form, he said.
Group member Will Johnson, 15 said he has always wanted to be an actor, and has found working with the improv group challenging yet fulfilling.
"At first I used to doubt myself, but then I realized I could move people," he said.
Morgan Hawk, 17, said that When Hodge invited her, "I was like, of course, are you kidding me? I've always liked making people laugh and smile."
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