You’ve probably walked away from a conversation and immediately thought of all the things that you could have said to make your point, and in the process, maybe even presented yourself more effectively to others. But the moment is gone, and you’re left with a vague dissatisfaction. Your ability to communicate hinges on so many factors; perhaps the most central is being centered in yourself and having your attention on what is being said by others in the present tense – like, having your mind right here and now; not in the past or in some imagined future.
Denny Dillon, Saturday Night Live alumna and stage/TV/film actress, has a bit of expertise in extemporaneous self-expression. She’s a master of improvisational theater: that fast-moving, ever-surprising performance genre in which impromptu stories unfold, including dialogue, action and characters, all accomplished without a pre-written script. Dillon’s background and training in improvisation include a stint teaching at the Actors Conservatory in New York City and giving master classes at the Peoples Improv Theater in New York City, as well as colleges like Vassar and Syracuse University. She has been artist-in-residence at SUNY-Ulster and has created numerous workshops and performances in the local community, particularly with the group Improv Nation.
Dillon is currently offering classes in the genre at the Old Dutch Church on Saturday afternoons. She maintains that improvisation releases bursts of creativity and imagination, while developing both spontaneity and the skill of listening at the same time. “It’s my belief,” she says, “that improvisation is a valuable tool for everyone. It aides us in really deep listening – not hearing, but listening to what people are saying. It’s very spiritual, I think, like meditation in action.
“The core of improvisation is about being relaxed, in the moment. In that way, I find it valuable for anybody in any walk of life. No one in my class is planning a professional career on the stage, but people are finding it helpful in terms of their own lives. It helps people expand their imagination, get out of their comfort zone – you’re onstage with someone, and you’re creating things out of nothing. Also, it has to do with deep trust. In improvisation, we learn to think of our partners as geniuses, and be very loving and grateful for everything that they give us.
“There is a rule you must follow: You agree and move forward. In real life we disagree; it’s constant conflict. That maxim – agree and move forward – is so valuable in life. Another guide is: no questions. Questions control and deflect and place the burden on someone else. Whenever we ask questions, in the artform of improvisation, we stop the movement. That is one of the hardest things to unlearn. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with asking questions in real life…”
Classes are offered for adults, including young adults 16 and up, and class size will be limited. Past theatrical or improvisational experience is not necessary.
Improvisation Classes, Saturdays through April, 2-4 p.m., $25/class (discount for 4), Old Dutch Church, 272 Wall Street, Kingston; (845) 687-4466.