FST Virtual Classes Extend Reach Of Improvisation Program Across The Country
When performers and spectators could no longer be in the same room due to the coronavirus pandemic, many theaters in Sarasota and the country were forced to reinvent their programming to stay in touch with audiences.
Improvisation, a theatrical practice that forces actors to respond quickly and without prior planning, may seem unsuitable for a virtual space. FST Improv has found a way to make it work and reach an audience outside of the Sarasota area.
But not without some difficulties.
“As you reach the higher levels of improvisation, [learning online] becomes very difficult, ”said Will Luera, director of improvisation at the theater. “These higher levels are meant to work on awareness of each other, and awareness of space and eye contact. I really had to adjust the way the exercises and the scenes worked.
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And at least one student did not take care of these challenges. Norma Botello of Austin, TX was a member of the first and only class to complete FST’s six-class one-year virtual improvisation program.
Botello, who was among a number of participants from outside the Sarasota area, was one of three students to complete all six levels. She became interested in working with FST after discovering ImproLatinx, a weekly online improvisation show run by Luera and performed entirely in Spanish.
“I’m Latina and haven’t seen a lot of Latinx improvisers,” Botello said. “It was a joy to discover more Latinx improvisers because in a way I feel like they are a part of me. Culturally, they feel at home.
She had practiced and studied improvisation in Austin. “I went to class and loved it. I wanted to keep taking more classes. I thought ‘it’s a cool hobby’ and a great way to have fun with a group of people.
The diversity and inclusion of the Florida Studio Theater improvisation community led Botello to engage in the one-year virtual improvisation training.
“Will was so good at getting us to be ourselves,” Botello said. “I was initially nervous because I was in front of a computer, but the virtual setting taught us to really listen to a person instead of just listening to respond. “
Luera and Botello both believe that improvisation training can be a valuable tool for anyone who wants to become a better performer, or just a better person.
“A lot of people come into classes aspiring to pursue an acting or comedy path, but not all of them,” Luera said. “Some of them are trying to be better listeners, to be better workers or to learn to be more collaborative at home. Ultimately, I can teach you skills that can translate into better communication and confidence offstage.
Botello agrees: “When I started taking improvisation lessons, I didn’t know how much it would help me overall. It has led me to communicate better with people, to have better listening skills and to be truly present at all times with people. It translates so well in life.
Botello met Luera and other attendees on a Memorial Day weekend visit to Sarasota, his first trip with his daughter, Arya. “We got to meet all of us together and it was so wonderful too because I had been talking to them through a screen for eight months and now they’re really there.”
While he struggled to find the best methods at first, Luera said he believed virtual classrooms would remain a part of the improv program.
“Virtual classrooms are here to stay because they increase accessibility. The Zoom challenge has now paid off in real life. A lot of the things I had to do on Zoom now help me with inclusion in different ways. “
Luera said he was inspired by working with Botello over the past year as he learned the best way to impart his skills virtually.
“Watching her become a better improviser and actress, as well as learning the technical elements of the trade, showed me that it was possible,” he said. “Watching her become friends with her virtual classmates was an unexpected result that showed us that, even through our small computer screens, the bond that improvisation can make is still very real.”
Luera says he used the skills he developed for online learning to better support students who may have mental or physical disabilities, and he explained how online courses can continue to support communities with disabilities. beyond the pandemic.
“There are people for whom leaving their homes or being surrounded by groups of people can be very difficult,” he said. “Virtual lessons allow me to teach in a way that can always feel safe.”
For more information on FST’s improvisation program, call 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org/improv-101-601.