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Why Your Teen Needs to Try Improv

Consider this arts option that's all about less stress

Carla Bell

Published on: April 02, 2018

UP Youth Improv
Students prepare for an improv performance with Unexpected Productions (UP). Photo courtesy of UP.

The improv TV show “Whose Line is it Anyway?” drew a loyal following, but did you know that improvisational theater is more than the niche comedic sketches we’re used to? 

Actors in improv will tell you it’s about thinking on one’s feet in spontaneous emotional change-ups. It’s in-the-moment story telling performance art, in which they’re co-creators and narrators, two steps ahead of their audience, yet unaware of how the story ends, all at once. 

Those are particularly good lessons for teens, says Sara Carmer McMahon.

A graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, McMahon has been acting and teaching improv around Seattle since 1993 — specifically with teens for 13 years.

“Not only is there fun in teaching them a very cool art form, but it's been gratifying to see all the ways that doing improv together makes them happy,” she says.

Our children need a reprieve from the constant pursuit of perfection. “At school [and] on social media, with peers and parents, they’re under immense pressure to have it together, to know how to do things well and quickly,” says McMahon. “I tell them it doesn't matter if they get things ‘right.’ There’s no need for them to be funny or clever. They can be themselves.”

McMahon sees this often in her work at Unexpected Productions (UP), a performing arts theater located in Pike Place Market. You may know it as “The Theater Behind the Gum Wall.” She and fellow UP actor Chris Last lead a program specifically for teens: YouthProv Teen Improv School

Open to kids ages 12 and above, the school aims to help teens build public speaking skills and cooperation while having fun. (The co-teacher Last also coaches improv at Everett High School and Henry M. Jackson High School.)

Beginning April 7, the duo will offer YouthProv 100 and YouthProv 200 classes for eight weeks on Saturdays. (No prior experience is necessary for YouthProv 100, but the course is a prerequisite for the 200-level registrants.) 

Both classes cost $237 each and run 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Georgetown Studios.

Teen Improv Camp, another UP offering, begins June 25, also at Georgetown Studios. The camp builds “performance skills necessary to deliver an impressive and hilarious end-of-session show for friends and family” and is open to all experience levels, kids ages 12 and up.

The goal of all the programs: Help young improvisers get  reacquainted with their authentic selves — a powerful tool to fight the anxieties of adulting. 

McMahon says she always tries to set her students at ease. Once they relax, “they start to have fun, trust themselves and take risks on a small scale,” she says. “They tell me it’s refreshing to just come and play where the consequences of failure are so low.”

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