Children get taste of improv

Published 9:23 pm Thursday, September 11, 2008

Like the commercial says, life comes at you fast. The better prepared the youth of today become, the better they will be able to handle the twists and turns of life in the future.

To that end, YOUth LEAD — a youth leadership program in Marengo County — hosted “The Big Event” yesterday morning at the Demopolis Civic Center, inviting the best and the brightest from all seven high schools within Marengo County.

Each school chose 15 to 20 student leaders to participate in the leadership project.

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“I believe this is the first time that students from all seven Marengo County schools met in one place,” said Catherine Meador, chair of YOUth LEAD.

The program featured “The Eclectic Improv Company” of Buffalo, N.Y., which also performed at the Civic Center last night. The comedy improvisation company — made up of Peter Cumbo, Abby Holland, John Kruezer and musical director Michael Hake — performed improvised skits using material provided by the student audience.

After the improv show, the performers talked to the students about how performing improvisation compares to leadership skills.

“There’s quick thinking, teamwork, supporting each other, keeping eye contact, non-verbal communication, staying focused and being creative,” Cumbo said, listing the ideas provided by the students.

“Improv is an art form. It’s very structured with rules behind it. When people you work with understand the rules, that gives you the freedom to perform successfully.”

Cumbo said the secret to good improvisational performing is called “yes-and,” meaning that everything done by the other performers is accepted as fact, and the other performers take that and build on it, taking the scene forward.

After the performance, the students split into three groups to work on improvisational techniques that can also be applied towards leadership and working with others.

Schools represented were Demopolis High School, Linden High School, John Essex High School, A.L. Johnson High School, Marengo High School, Sweet Water High School and Marengo Academy.

“This was made possible through a grant from the Black Belt Community Foundation, of which I am a member,” said Demopolis mayor Cecil P. Williamson. “It was also in cooperation with the governor’s Black Belt Action Commission’s art and culture committee. When the Arts and Humanities Commission issued grants, they saw that there was no application from the Black Belt region, so they provided us with a grant as a way of reaching into the Black Belt for arts promotion, and we used the money to bring this improv group here.”

Other officers in YOUth LEAD include vice president Nancy Tyson, treasurer Kayte Melton and secretary Lucinda Mason. Other members include Tenathius Bassett, Katie Echols, Kathryn Friday, Lorissa Holder, Braxton Spahos and Hillary Stapp.