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The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

The Evanstonian

The news site of Evanston Township High School's student newspaper

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Local festival brings improv-ements to ETHS Improv Club

Yes, And … Festival creates welcoming enviornment for Improv Club to grow and perform
Local+festival+brings+improv-ements+to+ETHS+Improv+Club
Xander Mroczek

On Sept. 17, ETHS Improv club students and club sponsors, Laura Jewell and Edward Grey, headed down to Batavia, Ill. for the fifth Yes, And… festival. Started by Batavia High School’s improv group in 2016, and the festival has continued at the school each year.  However,  due to the pandemic, this was the first time the festival was held since 2019.

Three ETHS juniors who attended the festival—Leo Hogan, Jay Gurrala and Rachel Durango-Cohen—have been inolved in the ETHS Improv Club since it was started by Gray and Jewell in 2021.

“I feel like I’m more confident and better at conversation, [because of improv club],” said Gurrala. Durango-Cohen agreed.

“With improv, you shouldn’t really second-guess yourself. You just kind of say whatever comes out first. That doesn’t always work out in conversation, but it definitely makes you more confident.”

All three students mentioned that improv has also significantly improved their sense of humor.

A key attribute of the club overall  is the easy-going and supportive environment it fosters.

“Everyone in the club is just so nice and funny,” Durango-Cohen stated. “The community is just so good…You never feel like you’re getting judged.”

“Compared to the other theater programs at ETHS I feel like there’s a lot less pressure,” expressed Gurrala.

Jewell and Gray both spoke about their initial fear around practicing improv and the duo’s ‘origin story.’

“Mr. Gray and I both have backgrounds in acting. We actually met long before we both worked here, in a Second City class called ‘Improv for Actors.’ We fell out of touch, but then recognized each other on a Zoom call in 2020 and texted each other at the same time “is that you?” The next year, we directed ‘The Radio Play Disaster’ together and started the Improv Club,” explained Jewell.

Last year the Improv Club took a field trip to see comedy troupe Improvised Shakespeare at the IO Theater in Chicago. On a whim, Ms. Jewell emailed the troupe’s director to ask if the club could meet the director or one of the actors. To everyone’s surprise, multiple actors came out after the show to talk with the ETHS students.

“That was the first time a lot of the students saw a professional improv group perform,” Ms. Jewell said. “I think that’s really important.”

 Inspired by last year’s successful outing, Jewell and Gray searched for an experience for this year’s improv club. After a rigorous Google search, they discovered Batavia High School’s Yes, And… festival.

Once the club arrived at the festival, they were intimidated by the atmosphere.

“I was nervous to see the other improv groups from other schools, and I knew that we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare.” Hogan stated.

At the start of the day, every school group attending was instructed to put on matching shirts to create a feel of one large community, rather than a bunch of different schools. This was successful and created a sense of welcoming.

“There’s not a lot of girls in the improv club, but there were a lot more girls at the festival. It was really nice to see and experience,” Durango-Cohen said. Hogan and Gurrala said that they felt similarly welcome.

Throughout the day, a professional improv troupe based in Batavia led multiple workshops for the attending students, such as ‘Musical Improv’ and ‘First Thirty Seconds.’ Students in the club expressed interest in incorporating more musical improv into activities in the future.

During the workshops, the sponsors of the various schools’ improv groups were able to meet. Jewell and Gray both agreed that meeting with other teachers was helpful, and they came away with many more ideas to incorporate into the Improv Club.

After the workshops, each school group put on their own improv performance and was given feedback by the professional improv troupe.

All three students said they would go to the Yes, And… festival again. Luckily for them, Jewell and Gray plan on bringing the Improv Club to the festival next year.

For now, the improv club is on a hiatus.

“We are not starting up the club until we find out about a coaching stipend for myself and Mr. Gray,” Jewell explained. “This is not because of the money, but because we want Improv Club to be recognized for the valuable and important skills it provides…We also want to show our students that artists should be compensated for their work. Mr. Gray and I are actively involved in teaching our Fruit Snacks the skills that we spent years honing. There is a culture in the United States that artists should work for nothing, or just for ‘exposure.’…We want to model for our students that their artistic endeavors have value, and they should be compensated for them.”

There are potential plans for the club to start up in the second semester.

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Eleanor Granstrom, Staff Writer
Xander Mroczek, Staff Writer
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