Quick, tell a story about a hero. A hero rising to take on its greatest, unexpected and unusual foe: blankets.
Here’s the catch. You have to tell it as part of a group, and each person can only say one word. And it has to be in the style of a film trailer.
Close to 20 students at Mountain View High School’s improvisation group took the plunge. Using one word each and a deep, dramatic trailer-style voice in between laughs, they crafted a tale of romance, tragedy and a hero emerging to take on a world of blankets.
The group wasn’t alone. The members were telling an improvised story, creating split-second scenes with Adam Archer and Eve Krueger, two members of one of the most recognized improvisation troupes in the United States, The Second City.
Archer and Krueger stopped by Mountain View’s auditorium to work with the students in between performances at The Barns at Wolf Trap in Vienna, where the troupe has been doing shows from Wednesday to Sunday evening.
Two other members of Chicago-based The Second City, Lauren Walker and Greg Ott, hosted a workshop at Colonial Forge High School for members of the school’s own improvisation team.
The Second City has been called the “Harvard of Comedy,” no less due to its jaw-dropping list of alumni, including Joan Rivers, Fred Willard, Tim Meadows and Tina Fey among other household names.
The improv show at Wolf Trap, called “We’re All In This Room Together,” is described on The Second City’s website as “full of the live and in-your-face entertainment Netflix can’t provide.”
Tom Clark, a drama instructor at Mountain View and faculty sponsor for the improv group, called “Sorry in Advance,” had noticed that one Second City show would stop in Virginia when scanning the tours.
He contacted The Second City, and several members of the troupe volunteered to workshop at both Mountain View and Colonial Forge.
Krueger and Archer led the group through several activities familiar to fans of “Whose Line is it Anyway?” A film-noir skit, an activity called “Three-Headed Expert,” where three people link arms and answer complex questions each saying one word, and three-lined skits.
With each activity, Archer and Krueger offered different pieces of advice in collaborating with other group members and owning the stories and characters they create, even if they think they failed.
“Improv is a good place where you can try something and fail miserably at it,” Krueger said, noting there are no wrong answers in improv. “Let’s use this time to embrace failure to propel us to do this.”
Archer and Krueger said they had both given improv workshops separately. Working in high schools is something Krueger enjoys.
“You can actually watch transformation, discoveries happen with the kids,” Krueger said.
Archer remembered his own experience with improv in high school, and was inspired by the students’ dedication.
“[Improv] was transformative to me,” he said. “The fact that kids spend extra-curricular time with this. It’s great.”
Students with the “Sorry in Advance” troupe, which meets every Thursday, felt similarly transformed by the workshop.
“I feel so much stronger,” Stephen Balani, a Mountain View senior, said. “Stronger upon our skills to build upon each other, to keep a scene going and help each other.”
Meredith Speet, a junior, also felt inspired and was excited to work with Krueger and Archer.
“We’ve done workshops before, but not at this level,” Speet said.
Abigail Merker, a senior, said she looks up to several performers on Saturday Night Live, and was excited to meet members of a touring improv group.
“I learned a lot, had a great time,” Merker said.
This has not been Clark’s, or Mountain View’s first run-in with The Second City. Some Mountain View alumni have gone on to work with the troupe. Alan Linic, a 2007 graduate, currently performs with The Second City’s 41st revue. He was not with the show touring Virginia, Clark said.
Clark hopes the workshop will open Mountain View and Colonial Forge’s student groups to new exercises and different ways to stretch their improv muscles.
With a black box theater being built at Mountain View among other additions, Clark is looking forward to having the students at “Sorry in Advance” leap into new possibilities.
“It’s good to shake things up once in a while,” he said.