news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Monday, 21 July 2014

Improv for Actors with Becky Johnson at the Volcano Conservatory

Becky Johnson is known as one of the finest comics in Toronto. She is one half of the improv duo, The Sufferettes, and was recently nominated for 2 Canadian Comedy Awards in improvisation! In her workshop, Improv for Actors at the Conservatory, Becky draws on influences from clown, and plays with rhythm, awareness and the dynamics of comedy to build performance-ready improvised scene-work with actors.  In lead up to her masterclass happening on Saturday July 26, Becky shares with us the benefits of improv, and that it's not as scary as you may think!

1)  What was it that  drew you to improv, and what (do you think) makes it valuable to actors?

BJ: I was drawn to improv comedy originally as a teenager because there was more opportunities in it for women at my high school as compared to play. As I got deeper into it, I also found that I am particularly attracted to its immediacy. It doesn't require development, approval or dramaturgy in the same way other theatre practices can.

2) Outside of improv and comedy, you are also an actor.  How do you feel these two disciplines inform one another in the work that you create?

BJ: I think the biggest difference for actors who are used to scripted theatre is that the performance impulse also has to include the invention of material in improv.

3)  For some, improv can be scary, particularly in theatre.  What do you consider the personal risk of improv as a performer and how do think Improv for Actors can help overcome these challenges?

BJ: First, I always explain to performers who are used to scripts that audiences are much more forgiving of improvised theatre. And they should be. They are exchanging polish and tightness for impulse and collective discovery. Both approaches, to me, are equally thrilling in different ways. Both are valid. It is just worth understanding that you are not unprepared to perform just because you haven't specifically prepared.

4) What do you want participants to take away from your workshop?

BJ: I really want to demystify performance improv for actors who may find the idea overwhelming. In more standard conservatory training, it seems that improv is only taught and used as a development tool. Actors have so many of the skills required to get on stage and improvise well shaped, funny work. I would like students to leave with new confidences in that direction.

Photo of Becky in A Beautiful View
by Hilda Lobinger. 
5) Tell us about what you're currently working on!

BJ: I am working on an awful lot at the moment. I am currently on a six week tour of Toronto with my improv duo, The Sufferettes. Even though touring one's hometown is a bit of a joke, it has been surprisingly gruelling to do this. I am also getting ready for my first Off Broadway production - the American premiere of Sheila Heti's All Our Happy days Are Stupid at the Kitchen in New York City. That's not until February, but the planning phase is well under way. I perform regularly at Catch23 Improv, the Friday night improv show that I co-produce at Comedy Bar. I am also really stoked to be playing a leading role in the first show at Bad Dog Theatre's brand new space. That show is called 9 to 5, an Improv Show for Working Women. I get to play the editor-in-chief of a 1990's women's magazine, so it is a doubly dreamy project for me.

Improv for Actors happens Saturday July 26, 10am - 6pm.  To sign up for this masterclass with Becky Johnson email to reserve your spot!

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