Pocono Area Students Learn About Improvisation
|Chris Barnes, left, is the host during the first filming of Comedy High at Pocono Mountain East in Swiftwater on Saturday morning. The documentary/reality show will air on Blue Ridge Cable in the near future.
| ADAM RICHINS/Pocono Record
The Pocono Record
By Melanie Vanderveer
May 24, 2009
This is the true story of eight drama students picked to act on stage while being taped, and to find out what happens when people stop being serious, and start being funny.
No, it isn't another season of the "Real World," but rather a local home-grown reality show starring high school students with drama in their blood, and a passion to make people laugh.
Hollywood came to Stroudsburg on Saturday when actor Chris Barnes used his comedic talent to teach high school drama students the fine art of improvisation.
Many may know Barnes from television shows such as "Life with Bonnie," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld." He is also the owner of the "Comedy Dojo" in California, where previous clients have included Molly Shannon and Amy Poehler.
Barnes is passionate about using his talents to help young people develop their love for the stage.
"The goal is to show students, family and community the necessary skills one needs to develop to overcome the adversities life hands you through the principles of intensive comedy training," Barnes said. "The healing aspect of comedy itself can be a true guiding force in life, as well as on the stage."
After area high school drama teachers announced what Barnes had in mind for a day of learning drama, eight students decided it sounded like something they might like to do.
"Our drama teacher printed out papers about this program. She told us that it would be a good opportunity for us to learn improvisation," said Meghan Wotring, student at Pocono Mountain East.
Stroudsburg High School student Kelly Vaghenas added, "The director of our musical told me about this. I've never taken acting classes before, so I thought it would be a good experience."
And the experience didn't stop there. A film crew from Post Sputnik Film and Video Production in Allentown was there to film the entire event reality-show style.
The drama students came out for a lesson from Barnes, and ended up leaving with skills that may help them land their dream part one day.
Barnes taught the students through the use of games and techniques taught at the famous acting school, Second City in Chicago.
"The games and techniques are to teach the students to be honest in the moment. Acting is really reacting," Barnes said. "Improv is an art form that has been used since 1959. Mike Meyers, Chevy Chase and Bonnie Hunt have all used improv in actual auditions."
When learning improvisation, no props or set design is used. The students had to work with only their emotions and body language to get the point across.
Thinking on their feet was vital, and the faster the thought process, the better.
"We are in the energy exchange business. In improv, you have to do object work and create the set yourself," Barnes said. "This is an art form that allows something wonderful to happen right away."
Barnes told the students about the time he auditioned for the part of Kramer on Seinfeld. Improvisation skills made all the difference, and all the exercises on space substance came into play.
"The script said that Kramer enters wildly. Michael Richards got the part because of his entrance," Barnes said. "He took entrances and exits and made them his signature."
As the students went through each improvisation exercise, they were picking up valuable skills to help in their journey to becoming a working actor. The students all expressed an interest in pursuing a professional acting gig after high school.
Today wasn't the end of the journey for these eight fellow drama-lovers.
"The students will be performing live at my new comedy school in Stroudsburg on June 6 or 7," Barnes said.
Barnes is about to embark on a new project, bringing laughter and drama to Monroe County in the form of the newest Comedy Dojo acting school.
"Chris is an awesome teacher. The key word here is awesome," said Tisdale Frederick, Pocono Mountain East student. "His energy goes through all of us. Opportunities to be taught by someone like Chris doesn't come around too much."
The reality show, Comedy High, will air on Blue Ridge Cable on a date yet to be determined. Chris Barnes Comedy Dojo improv-comedy training center opens on June 6 at the Sundari Yoga Studio at 823 Ann St. in Stroudsburg.
For more information, www.comedydojo.com, or (570) 839-6778.