Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Students shine in improv comedy club at PHS

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One of the newest afterschool activities at Poolesville High School is a barrel of laughs but still keeps students thinking on their toes.

Members of the school’s Improv Club, now in its second year, meet once or twice a week to play various role-playing games, prepare for performances and critique each other on their comedic craft.

‘‘It takes nerves of steel to get up onstage and not know what you’re going to say,” said senior Marshall Betz of Poolesville, also a member of Poolesville’s Drama Club. In addition to practices, club members also perform where they solicit humorous scenarios from the audience and showcase their skills being funny on the fly.

The group has steadily grown from its initial draw of four people to the roughly 30 students who now clamor to show their stuff at practices, said club sponsor and special education teacher Joe Davis. Davis dabbled in improvisational comedy in high school and college and suggested forming the club after coming to Poolesville last year.

‘‘You guys, you guys, let him set it up,” Davis said as he paced in front of the stage with a pencil behind his ear. The students were interrupting each other during an improv exercise in the rush to contribute their own jokes. ‘‘He had a great one-liner coming up.”

Davis spends practices periodically reining in the energetic teens, ensuring everybody gets a chance to participate and providing helpful tips, such as suggesting that a student tasked with portraying a radioactive koala speak with an Australian accent.

Of course, comedy without a net isn’t easy. Members flub joke, draw blanks and even put their bodies on the line for a laugh.

‘‘Bodily harm is the best way to make improv comedy,” said Betz, who bruised his tailbone at a performance last year during an imitation of the world’s worst babysitter.

Despite the risks posed by dramatic pratfalls, improv is an opportunity for students to cut loose and goof around as well as gain confidence and public speaking skills, Davis said.

The club started out with students with experience being on the stage in school plays, but now about half of the members have never acted, such as Dain Knudson of Dickerson, a freshman who has a habit of mugging for security cameras.

‘‘We do it at parties,” Knudson said. ‘‘This is what I do with my time when I’m hanging out with my friends.”