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Whidbey improv workshops aim to address stage fright, help public speaking and sharpen skills of actors

John Fowkes, left, participates in an improvisational game with his son Wolly during an improv workshop in Oak Harbor.  - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
John Fowkes, left, participates in an improvisational game with his son Wolly during an improv workshop in Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

One by one, actors step forward and share personal stories, cutting each other off in the process.

The fast pace and interruptions are by design, all part of improvisational theater, better known as improv.

It was going the way Adam Novak wanted it until an actor stopped talking and no one jumped in, leaving an awkward silence.

“Keep going!” Novak blurted.

Novak’s love for improv goes back to his high school days in Lombard, Ill. His Navy career brought him to Oak Harbor, where he now shares his passion with the community.

Novak, 32, holds improv workshops on Sundays in the Star Studio at the Whidbey Playhouse. While some attend to work on acting and improv skills, the workshops are designed to help anyone cope with stage fright, help with public speaking or just to “de-stress,” as Novak puts it.

“The whole thing is just for people to come together and have fun,” Novak said.

There was no lack of that Sunday as Novak and 10 others participated in improv games for nearly two hours.

The room was a mix of improv veterans, new actors and students just trying it out. The workshops are free and are geared for those 14 and up.

“Some people want to face their fears,” said Kevin Wm. Meyer, a playhouse board member and longtime improv performer.

Rachel Jeanpierre, 27, attended for the first time. She is stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

“I was intrigued by the idea,” she said. “I started taking acting classes. I thought this would help with my creativity and imagination level. It was something I wanted to do that was on Whidbey Island. Young people don’t know you can do something like this.”

John and Penny Fowkes turn the workshop into a family affair. John, who’s performed in several plays at Whidbey Playhouse, recently was joined by his wife and their son Wolly at the workshop.

“It’s a great family activity,” Penny said. “It gives everybody an opportunity to be out and do something totally off the wall. You can play games at home like board games, but these games allow you a lot more freedom.

“One thing you learn in improv and acting is you can’t sensor yourself. You’re becoming someone different. You are in a situation that requires you to be free of what you say or what you do. It’s not an experience for everybody but anybody interested in acting and being part of theater, it’s a good way to get started.”

For those with grander acting resumes, it’s a way to sharpen skills and share techniques with others.

It was evident Sunday that Novak, Meyer, Bob Foster and John Fowkes, in particular, had ample stage experience.

They all exuded confidence, were focused, faced forward and commanded attention when they spoke.

All four are part of the Whidbey Improv Team that Novak co-founded with board member Mary K. Hallen three years ago.

The group will be performing an improv comedy show “Do You Feel Lucky … Punk?” at 7:30 p.m. Saturday March 23 at the Whidbey Playhouse. It is a fundraiser for the playhouse. Tickets are $8.

Meyer is well versed in improvisational comedy. His experience includes a stint with a Bay Area improv group called Asylum.

Meyer, 60, is funny even when he’s not trying to be, which is why improv suits him well.

“One thing about improv being funny is … don’t try to be funny,” Meyer said.

 

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