As regular followers of WitOut may have already read, the Philly Improv Theater is currently accepting applications to their Improv Conservatory class that starts this spring. It is an intentionally small class (eight students) that takes place over eight weeks, followed by a four-show run at PHIT over the course of one month. The class will be taught by Hot Dish director and PHIT teacher Steve Kleinedler. I asked Steve a few questions about the class and how it works.
Matt Aukamp: So you came to Philly from ImprovBoston. How did you get involved with PHIT and the Improv Conservatory class?
Steve Kleinedler: The Harold team Marjean was one of many projects I was involved with at ImprovBoston. We came to Philadelphia for the fourth Philadelphia Improv Festival. There, I met a lot of people in the Philadelphia improv community. Marjean came back to three more PHIFs, and we were invited to one-off shows at the Actors Center with the N Crowd and for a special intercity Troika. Every time I came down I met more people and I’d run into them at other festivals, so when I was looking to leave Boston, Philadelphia was very appealing to me.
Right before I moved, I met with Greg Maughan and Mike Marbach, and they put me in the pipeline to teach classes at PHIT based on my experience teaching at ImprovBoston. I started teaching at PHIT shortly after I moved here in 2011. Mike started up the Conservatory last fall and was the instructor for the first one, and he’s asked me to take on the second one this spring.
MA: Could you explain how the program works and the differences there will be between last year and this year?
SK: I was teaching class during the time of [last year's] class shows so I didn’t have the opportunity [to see them.] However I’ve worked with many teams over the years to help them create a show or a format that showcases the strengths of the players as individuals and their groups as a whole. I have a lot of experience in helping groups develop unique structures.
PHIT’s improv program is designed to impart a variety of improv skills and techniques. In the Conservatory, the students use those skills to create a show of their own making. The goal isn’t to create an independent team. Rather, the goal is to give people the experience of team building and working with a coach to create a show.
Mike Marbach, as the Education Director, and I will go over the applications and discuss students with their previous teachers to see which group of students would get the most out of working together to create a show. Everyone must be available for all the classes and all the performances.
Benefits to the Conservatory include a smaller class size—seven or eight students, which means more individual attention and stage time. The shows are recorded and shared with the class so students can go over performances with their instructor.
So although each Conservatory creation is different, the underlying concept of what the Conservatory is is the same from session to session.
MA: How can performers expect this process to work? Especially performers used to learning traditional forms rather than inventing unique styles of play?
SK: In the first week, we simply have them play together and together we analyze how they play together and what their collective strengths and weaknesses are. From that we work together to develop a structure that plays into their strengths. It’s not that they are developing a unique style of play. Rather, they are using their style of play to develop a unique format.
The development is usually pretty organic, and I’m there to help the process along. Usually there are different options that can be explored, and we’ll go over all of those, and then when we have a rudimentary framework, we’ll rehearse that structure and make tweaks along the way.
MA: What qualities are you looking for in applicants? What would you say to encourage someone who fits the requirements and is considering applying to your class?
SK: Improvisers who have been through the PHIT program have been taught a variety of techniques, and I’m looking for people who are interested in putting these techniques to work to create something new. There’s no better way to learn how to build up a team and have that team make its mark than by rolling up your sleeves and actually doing it. If people are considering it, I encourage them to go ahead and submit an application, because although it’s a lot of hard word, it’s going to be a lot of fun and intensely rewarding.
MA: The conservatory runs for eight weeks, after which, the class will be doing a run of shows at the PHIT for one month. What are your hopes for this show? What do improv fans have to look forward to?
SK: My hopes are that the students will have an enjoyable, fulfilling run while discovering how all the individual skills they’ve learned fit together.
Improv fans can look forward to four solid, entertaining, funny performances. Everyone wins!!
If you’re interested in applying, you can find the Conservatory application at http://phillyimprovtheater.com/classes/improv-comedy/march-2013-improv-conservatory-with-steve-kleinedler/. Applications will be accepted through EOD on 2/28/13.
Matt Aukamp is a writer, performer, and occasional improviser (The Win Show). You can usually find him bothering the world on Twitter at @mattaukamp.