For the Love of Improv!

“A cheerful heart is good medicine…” Proverbs 17:22

For thirty minutes we can allow actors to engage us in lifting our spirits with laughter. For thirty minutes, Regent University’s Varsity Improv Players (VIP’s) can help us drown out the noise of life and take us out of the daily drudge into the light-heartedness of their improv world.  However, if we haven’t experienced the hilarity of improv, how can we know what it really is like? Adjunct Professor L. Derek Leonidoff defines improv as “the art of spontaneous creativity. One of the goals of the VIP’s is to create fun, entertaining performances for our audiences. But, perhaps more importantly, we’re growing in the gifts and talents God has given us. The VIP’s are a performance group, a training ground, and a fellowship, all in one.”

From humble beginnings

 The graduate student improvisational acting class of 2007 named their final performance the “Varsity Improv Players.” The catchy phrase caught on, as did a growing interest in watching them perform. With the leading of their professor, they added shows and auditioned new players. Over a decade later, what began as a final student project has become a show that is put on after Regent productions.

What we all can learn from them

Life can be hard. We all encounter difficulties that test our character and fortitude. Learning to roll with the punches isn’t easy. However, God has given us the ability to create art, and art provides a relief, a space to buff the edges of life into something beautiful. Leonidoff remarks that “improvisation is the finest acting training and, next to the word of God, the finest ‘life’ training I’ve ever had.  Training and practice in improvisation has made me a better person.  And, I can attribute a large portion of the success I’ve had in the entertainment industry to my improv training.”

It’s about building other people up; making everyone you come in contact with feel like a rock-star!

The art of comedy

Practice makes perfect. The VIP’s center their rehearsals around an improvisational structure – meaning that they practice fifty games! They hit the ground running to prepare for what it’s like on show night. In essence, they learn how to play, not “read” how to play. The best part is that their troupe consists of professionals, alumni, students, and staff. Some have a natural propensity for it, and others sharpen their acting skills and shape them into a fun environment that leaves room for goofs with camaraderie among castmates who will always catch each other. Seasoned VIP player Jahmeel Powers said that “being a VIP means being the ‘Ultimate Team Player;’ being the best partner you can be; whether it’s on stage in a scene, in your community, or in your personal relationships. It’s about building other people up; making everyone you come in contact with feel like a rock-star! It’s about realizing that you are part of a marvelous gift; the gift of creation that brings love, laughter, and joy to the world!”

Speaking of creation…

“We have been given the creative power of God.  The arts are just one way we express it.  But one of the reasons I think improv is so fascinating to behold is its ‘electric spontaneity.’  On stage, Improvisers create characters, dialogue, and in some cases entire plays on the spot, using only their imagination and perhaps a suggestion from the audience.  It’s fascinating to behold, entertaining to watch, and just as much fun to perform because of the way we are wired.  We love creation.  Watching it and performing it is our glimpse at ‘Light be,’” said Leonidoff. Our need to create is innate. When God created the world, He made us in His image. We flourish and become our best selves when we create and spread joy and love. Improv is a shining light to the beauty of our Father. And as Leonidoff concludes, “it’s just a ton of fun!”

Want to know more?

You can find the Varsity Improv Players on Facebook, where you will get the most up-to-date information on their shows, and how to audition to join them in the fall. If you want to get the most out of what improv offers, consider taking the “improvisational acting” class that is offered at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Come and experience the hilarity of the VIP’s Saturday, Feb. 24, after the production of The Women of Lockerbie (9:30 p.m. in the Main Theater). A good time and a good laugh are guaranteed!

Tasha Kobito is a Staff Writer for The Daily Runner.