Making It Up as They Go Along
For Elise Parisian ’16, there is no better time to play a game than on a cold and rainy January day.
Standing among eight students in a Seelye Hall classroom, Parisian, who is teaching an improv comedy class during Interterm, takes a couple of minutes to explain a game that involves movement, quick thinking—and imaginary samurai swords. “Since it’s such a dreary day, I wanted to pick a fun game to get our energy up,” she says.
Judging from her students’ reaction, Parisian has succeeded. Within minutes, they’re happily hacking away at each other, filling the room with laughter.
It’s all in a day’s work for Parisian and more than 30 other students and staff who teach special noncredit classes, ranging from yoga to database design, during the three-week period between the end of winter break and the beginning of the spring semester.
Teaching gives instructors an opportunity to get creative and share their talents with students and staff who might otherwise have no time during the busy academic year to take a class on, say, the intricacies of bicycle mechanics or canning and drying food.
Parisian’s class, which she called “Improv for Everyone,” draws upon her experience in various sketch and improv ensembles in her native Chicago.
“I first got involved with improv in seventh grade when it was offered as an elective by one of my favorite teachers,” she says. “At the end of that term, he suggested that I check out some of the classes at Second City back home in Chicago and I was hooked.”
A studio art major, Parisian gears her class toward beginners as well as more experienced participants looking to brush up on the basics.
“To start we do warm ups and improv games that foster a sense of ensemble and support,” she says. “Doing improv can mean stepping out of your comfort zone, and I think it is important to create a space where everyone feels comfortable doing that.”
Program Administrator Susan Briggs says Parisian’s application to teach a class piqued her interest because of the way Parisian described improv as “learning to accept situations life throws at us while developing a response that encourages and welcomes the next steps. … While the Interterm program has offered improv classes in the past, I never heard it described in this way.”
Parisian herself has experienced the benefits of improv. In high school, she says, “I found improv very therapeutic. Whatever kind of day or week I was having, I could go to class or rehearsal and harness the emotions that didn't have another outlet and put them into my scene work. On top of that release, everyone is laughing all the time!”
She has also learned to expect surprises.
“It is amazing how many different gifts people can bring to a space,” she says. “I had one friend in an ensemble with me who had an incredible amount of knowledge about random things such as the evolution of weaponry and fermentation. This knowledge would emerge during scenes and push them in such interesting directions.”
Such surprises can make for a delightful interterm. Lillian Altreuter ’15 summed it up this way: “It’s lots of fun, and it’s a lovely group of people. I’m really glad that I’m here.”