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Thinking (and acting) on their feet

Crook County High School served as the site for the annual Oregon Thespian Improv Festival


by: JASON CHANEY - Crook County High School sophomore drama student Mikanda Gallenero, (far left) brainstorms skit ideas with her team comprised of students from other schools throughout Oregon.

One line, one prop, one hour and 10 minutes.

That was all that 350 drama student were given to throw together an original skit on Saturday at Crook County High School.

For the first time since 1997, the school hosted the Oregon Thespian Improv Festival, which drew young actors from 29 different high schools throughout the state.

The event kicked off mid-morning with students breaking off into six-person teams. Armed with a movie quote and an intentionally unrelated prop, the teams scattered to hallways, stairwells, and alcoves throughout Crook County High School (CCHS). In 70 minutes, each group had to take their quote and their prop, and whip up a performance that would hopefully resonate with a panel of judges.

"It was a chance for kids from around the state to gather together and do a little bit of improv," said CCHS Drama Instructor Anita Hoffman. "What's cool is 350 kids came here as strangers and they all met five or six new people."

Hoffman said she deliberately separated her 25 students so that only one local thespian could represent a group. Crook County senior Lance Durvin, and his team, were given "a very creepy lizard doll," and the famous "Hasta La Vista, baby," line from "Terminator."

After some hasty brainstorming, Durvin said the group had settled on trying to incorporate everything into a game show skit called "Translator."

"The people I'm with seem pretty competent," he said. "It'll be interesting."

Further down the hall, sophomore Mikanda Gallenero watched a member of her group try on a red and black mask that wouldn't look out of place during a Halloween shopping trip. Along with the mask, they were tasked with incorporating, "You're a wizard, Harry," into their production.

"It's really fun," Gallenero said. "The people are really friendly. I like meeting new people."

Hoffman said that each skit had to incorporate every member of the group and have a clear beginning, middle, and end that somehow tells a story. They are welcome to present their skit as a mini-musical, documentary, infomercial, talk show, or whatever else they can dream up.

"Anything is possible," Hoffman said.

After their 70 minutes are up, the teams go to rounds where one of nine judges watches the performance and critiques it on such categories as characters, story, and blocking (the precise movement and positioning of actors on a stage). Judges included local residents Lexie Tombleson, Joe Becker, and Jim Churchill-Dicks, all of whom have theater experience.

After two rounds, the teams return to the auditorium where the best five or six teams are called up to perform for three more judges.

"They don't have any rehearsal," Hoffman said. "They don't know they are being called up."

The judges then pick the winners and award them ribbons from the Oregon Thespians, the state's performing arts society.

For Hoffman, the emphasis on improv is critical in drama because it hones the social skills needed for developing performance ideas and helps actors learn to be leaders and supporters. In addition, it forces her students to think on their feet without the security of a script.

"It's very organic. You don't know what is going to come out of each one of these groups."



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