As fun as writing a script and rehearsal can be, some of our campers’ favorite parts of the week were playing improv games! Each week, we taught campers how to play some classic improv games to help them hone their acting skills. While we usually think about improv when we think about shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway or as a type of comedic theater. However, improv skills can also help actors learn how to think quickly, listen to their scene partners, and recover when a scene doesn’t go the way it’s supposed to.
One special favorite game is Gibberish Expert. In this game, a “world renowned expert” on an obscure topic gives a seminar for the class, but they don’t speak any English! Luckily, a member of the class is able to translate. This is one of the silliest games we play, as obviously the student translating can use body language and intonation to try and convey the message of the expert- or at least try their best! It’s always fun to see what kind of gibberish each student chooses to use.
Another crowd pleaser is the classic game Freeze, or Freeze Tag. This one is tons of fun with our Theatrical Teens groups and is great for encouraging students to use their bodies to tell stories and to commit to some big movements. Two teens take a wild pose to start the game, then have to create a scene using pantomime based on their poses. Once the scene has time to develop, another member of the class will yell Freeze! This student will hop onstage where the two players have frozen in place and switch places with one of them. Then they’ll have to start an entirely new scene based on the poses the previous scene ended with. It’s definitely entertaining to see how students can use their imaginations and the silly situations their characters can get into!
Although the summer is winding down, we’ll continue to use these games and others to help our students find their most confident and creative selves during our fall classes. Registration is now open for our after school classes across Northern Virginia and Maryland so make sure you sign up today to get a spot.
Every week this summer Care Actor has camps in and around the DMV. So that means every week we have a new opportunity to teach and awaken the creativity of new students. Last week we have six camps running! That means six different groups of kids exploring how to improv, write, and think creatively in a way they never have before.
One of the most important things we do at Care Actor to facilitate that creativity is by allowing the students to explore the things that interest them most when it comes to the creative process. We take all of our students ideas and try to merge them together into one giant play. We learn that collaboration can lead to a new idea much bigger and better than one persons singular input.
Last week we had a camp that loved singing! When you have a group that loves singing as much as this one, it would have been a shame not to use their talents in the show. Since the children write their own ten minute play and then perform it for their parents we encouraged them to include a song they all loved to sing in the play. The song they chose was “Baby Shark” a popular camp song that uses funny song lyrics and movement to tell the story of a hungry shark family. In this play Sparky, a golden retriever had to help save a group of passengers that had been stranded on a deserted island after a shipwreck! Sparky was always looking to help, so he leads them to wood where they fashion a raft and head out onto the ocean to look for rescue. Sparky even helps pull them along! While they’re swimming they stop and see A SHARK! In true musical fashion, an interlude is taken to sing “Baby Shark” but luckily Sparky scared the sharks away and they all arrived safely on the shores of a more populated island. Sparky is given a medal of honor and the passengers praise Sparky for his Helpfulness.
If you couldn’t tell, the theme for last week was HELPFULNESS. The kids are asked to use a theme to inform their play. We are so proud of these students for showing us how Sparky could be a hero in extraordinary circumstances just through his desire to help. These students impressed me with their enthusiasm and unrelenting willingness to collaborate.
Each week is so different here at Care Actor. I am continually blown away by the students. I hope you will consider enrolling your students in our camps this year. Since every week is so different you can have them coming back for more!
How is it possible that our first week of camp has already come and gone? We have been planning and preparing for summer camps since September of last year! It has been a big year for us. We have over 50 camps running with 7 different cities and counties around Maryland and Northern Virginia.
Our theme for this year is Discover the Hero in You! We at Care Actor want to emphasize the good qualities we see in superheroes, their bravery, helpfulness and much more for our students. Then we wanted to remind them that there are Everyday Heroes all around us, in our community, our homes, our schools. Discovering the Hero in You is all about taking the lessons we learn and applying them to ourselves. We wanted to share a little about how our first week of camp went!
Our first camp was Act it Out! At Spring Hill Elementary School with Fairfax County Park Authority. Each week our students have a different learning emphasis and this weeks was Helpfulness. Our students read and performed four different books “Even Superheroes Have Bad Days” by Shelly Becker, “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, “Anansi The Spider” by Gerald McDermott, and “Give up, Gecko” by Margaret Read MacDonald. Each story has characters that embody the trait of Helpfulness. After reading the story we ask the children what they think the story was about. We ask what types of lessons we can take away from this story. We ask how we can use helpfulness in our daily lives. Not only are we teaching the children how to use their bodies and voice to express themselves but we’re also building the characteristics we want to see in the world in them! This week the students decided to perform “Give up, Gecko” for their parents. I have seen a lot of Act it Out final presentations and this one was quite special. Our Gecko was played by a four year old boy who stomped and boogied around the stage as the other kids yelled “Give up, Gecko” but this Gecko wasn’t giving up! We were so proud of this group and all the parents were too.
Next we have two Dramatic Kids! Camps. Our Jamestown Elementary School camp with Arlington County created a hilarious play called “The Squirrel Who Stole Dinner”. This story centers around a pesky squirrel who stole the dinner of hunter who lives in the forests and the hi-jinks that ensue on his quest to get that dinner back. The forest was filled with persnickety hedgehogs, beautiful birds, cunning foxes, tricky squirrels and more! The kids created their own costumes and backdrops, creating a fully realized forest world. I was very impressed with the dialogue created by the kids. It was smart and really funny! Dialogue is always tricky for the kids to grasp but not these kids. I want them to help me write my next play!
Our other Dramatic Kids! Camp took place at Lee District RECenter with Fairfax County Park Authority. Their script was called “Dinos Versus Heroes: Through Time”. This epic adventure through space and time had awesome characters like Flamebot, a Robot from the future who could throw flames, or Dark Shine, a superhero sent to the past to stop the Dinosaurs from taking over the world! Each students character was extensively thought out and when inquiring about their characters each had a full backstory they would recite to me.
One of my other favorite moments from last week occurred at Lee District. I routinely stop by each of our locations to check on the teachers and the campers to make sure they are having the most successful week they can. When I got to Lee District I heard a child run up to me and proudly exclaim “Hi Miss Rachel!”. She was so excited to tell me “I was in your Dramatic Kids class last year!” and of course I remembered the lovely Joelle. She had loved our camp so much she had told her parents over and over she wanted to come back for another summer. I was so excited to see and hear that from her. That is a special memory I will take forward for the next nine weeks of camp!
Well that was our first week of camp! I look forward to checking back in with you all next week for more tales from our Care Actor camps!
I can’t even begin to tell you what an incredible honor it has been AWAKENING CREATIVITY in youth (ages 2-15) while BUILDING CONFIDENCE, COURAGE & CHARACTER through theater for nearly a decade! It still astounds me how our company blossomed from 5 students attending a drama class in a small studio space in Falls Church, VA into a full-fledged theater arts education program that has served over 5,000 students in 6 counties within the Washington D.C. area.
As the saying goes, each journey begins with a single step. For us, it all started on Monday, November 10, 2008 when CARE Actor opened its doors for the first-ever “Acting Workshop for Kids,” This class would later be renamed “DRAMATIC KIDS!” However, despite my marketing efforts just a few days prior to the first day of class, we had zero students. There was a part of me that said try again another time. But then a few days prior to calling it quits a co-worker of mine wrote me an email saying her daughter was interested in attending the class. Okay, one student is better than none! But, no wait! With her were 4 other interested kids who wanted to join! And with that our company was born!
Since that day, we’ve partnered with dozens of recreation sites, schools, community groups, and business in the DC area offering our signature classes & camps: LITTLE STARS!, ACT IT OUT!, DRAMATIC KIDS! and THEATRICAL TEENS! We’ve also added DRAMATIC BIRTHDAY PARTIES and FAMILY IMPROV to the list. Through these classes & camps we’ve witnessed countless of creative stories turning into original plays, timid students breaking out of their shells in stellar performances, and most importantly we’ve had a lot of fun & laughs along the way.
We could have never done it alone. That’s why I want to say THANK YOU to all my family friends, students, parents, staff members, community agencies, parks & recreation sites, local businesses, PTA groups and many, many more that made this program a dream come true for what used to be a painfully shy, little girl (me) who hoped that her love of acting & writing could make a positive impact on today’s youth.
Here’s to AWAKENING CREATIVITY for many years to come!
CEO of CARE Actor LLC
Many people don’t realize how beneficial improvisational theater (improv) can be when it comes to parenting. At CARE Actor we understand how valuable and impactful improv can have on building confidence and character. This is why we use improv games in our camps and classes and also have a FAMILY IMPROV workshop. Recently, I sat down with our Director of Operations, Dina Saunders, to discuss re-learning how to play, creativity and how the spirit and techniques of (improv) has shaped her parenting.
Saunders has been an actor most of her life, but started to focus more on improv when she became a new mother and realized she was struggling to trust her instincts on stage. She began doubting herself as a parent and found that improv, especially classes such as CARE Actor Family Improv, became a great vehicle and safe space, for learning to be okay with failure or mistakes.
You have two boys who are 3 and 7. Do you do a lot of creative activities with them?
As a parent, I’ve had to learn how to play again. So creative projects and storytelling have been a big part of my parenting [in an effort to] focus on supporting speech and building communication skills with both of my kids.
[My older son and I tell stories together], where we add to each other’s sentences, or I make up a story on the spot. He then makes up a counter story on the spot but his challenge is to not make his story exactly like my story. We try to make each other laugh the whole time.
Dina leading a CARE Actor Family Improv Workshop
This storytelling you’re doing sounds a lot like an improv game used in our CARE Actor classes and camps, called “One Word at a Time.”
Yes, it is very improv based.
[For instance] my 3 year old son loves dressing up, costumes, role playing. As young as he is, when we do these small scenes together, he has very specific ideas about who he is, who he wants me to be, and what happens, which is a lot of fun.
I always try to unnerve/mess with them – to let them know things are not always going to go exactly like they want it to- that when you do incorporate someone else into the story, it might not end up like you had planned. This doesn’t always go well, but I enjoy doing it so that they can experience that.
It is disruptive, but it’s about being flexible. It helps with problem solving skills, because I might throw something in the mix: blow up their castle, or do something unexpected. They have to figure out what to do, even if they don’t like it, and then keep the story going. Plus it is fun, very fun.
It sounds like you’re [acting] as just another kid, playing an improv game who is enjoying it?
Sure. You can go into an improv scene, think you know exactly what is going on here, or maybe you’ve prepared your [opening] line, and the other person completely derails your plan.
You had this whole plan, and now it’s not going to work?
It’s not. Now it’s about finding your footing, and a way to make it work, and not end the story. Because you had to make your idea work and not let the story die. I think that’s a great lesson in what creative collaboration is about, which is a BIG part of what improv and the theater experience is about.
We can't stop laughing at CARE Actor's Family Improv Workshops!
I love this idea of creative collaboration in improv. As you know, I have a four-year-old son and recently he was playing dress-up at school with friends where he was a fire fighter. The other kids were super heroes and he said, “Mom, they were messing up my scene.” I thought, “he’s growing up to be a theater kid.” I then thought it was a good opportunity to ask why he couldn’t bring them into his story. Almost like an introduction to one improv concept we use in CARE Actor called “Yes, And,” which is the basis for a lot of games and all of improv.
The “Yes, And” concept has made a big difference in my parenting. Starting a statement with “Yes,”(my husband has started doing it too) really makes things much easier.
[For example] if it’s the end of the day and my son really, really wants to watch TV. I will say, “Yes, you absolutely can watch TV, but first, I need you to help clean up this mess.”
If it’s not going to happen until the next day or next week, or not at all it’s still “Yes, you can, tomorrow or next week.” The main point is you’re still starting with “Yes” by saying what you can do?
Yes! It’s not like it’s always magical, nor a cure-all because there can be disappointments in that statement. [However]I always try to reassure my kids that I am saying “yes” so, let’s be flexible, and let’s work with the “yes.”
Do you think this principle of improv, which is so important, is about validating the other person, or about including them?
I think it’s about accepting; That person. Their idea. I think it’s a statement of acceptance. [This is a key principle in improv.]
Any other principles of improv that you think apply to child rearing?
[Improv] has enabled me to be more flexible and, more forgiving of myself. When you practice improv, it’s a safe space to try things out. [Because] not everything is going to work and it might not be the best scene. Maybe you sat on your impulses, or you didn’t share ideas for some reason. You can try things out, and you can fail, but you can get back up on your feet.
Yes! I think the idea that it’s okay to fail, is so important for improv, and also for kids in general.
For kids, and for parents.
For people in general would you agree?
As a mom, I am definitely hard on myself, especially now with the idea that you’re supposed to be 100%, and balance everything perfectly. I’m okay with not having it all.
As soon as I think, “I’ve got this parenting thing down,” something is going to change with one or both of my children, and we are going to have something new to deal with. So I try to be flexible, and to be okay with failure, because I know I can get back up on my feet again.
If a parent wanted to get into improv and had never done it before, what would your advice be?
CARE Actor [has] Family Improv Workshops, locally (we have one soon on June 24th), which is a great way for adults to participate with children. I think anybody coming to the table with a willingness to play is wonderful. Adults can benefit from experiencing improv with children, because the children come to the table with that openness. I think that’s a nice way to experience it for the first time, to have that openness of children in the room.
So what do you think? Have you found ways to integrate creativity into your parenting? Share your stories with us in the comments section of this post or on our CARE Actor Community page on Facebook! Use hashtag #CAREActorKids in your comment or post, and your story may be featured on our social channels. Sign up for our free e-newsletter HERE.
If you’re interested in learning more about our FAMILY IMPROV events, click HERE!
By Kaitlyn McQuin
Teaching is a special kind of career, one that requires patience, adaptability, and a whole lot of coffee. Fellow teachers, can I get an amen?!
As teaching artists, our job, on top of actually teaching, is to inspire our students to be the best version of themselves that they can be through the art form in which we’re trained, such as theater or creative writing.
So what exactly is a teaching artist? Like educators, we’re trained in a specific field of study. For me, it’s theater and film. However, unlike most educators, our qualifications to teach come not only from our education but also from our experience working professionally in our specific field. For example, we may not have a degree in elementary education in order to teach drama to elementary aged students.
Having worked alongside traditional educators in the school system, I’ve noticed that my teaching style is far from traditional. I walk into the first day of class with a plan that allows for ample adaptability according to the needs of those I’m teaching, a teaching style I picked up from acting and directing. When directing a scene in one of our camps, I can use words that I, as an actor, relate to in hopes our students relate to them too. For example:
“When you say your line, say it as if you’ve stubbed your toe.”
Most people, especially energetic children, know exactly what it’s like to run around, hit your toe, and cry out in agony. That phrase “as if” is a a tactic that works for me as an actor. When I apply this technique in my classroom, I see how well it works, yielding the right results.
In my classroom, not only are the students actors, but I am too.
Because we relate to our students on a creative level we can teach them intricacies and practical aspects of the craft. Plus, our real life stories of going on auditions, getting jobs, and shaking out opening night jitters can inspire our students to pursue the arts.
Oftentimes, though we are there to inspire students, it’s the students who do the inspiring and teaching.
In all of the little minds I have encountered over the years, more often than not, they’re the ones who are armed with the lesson plans and knowledge that’s ready to be dropped.
When we take a moment to listen to the kids we teach, we notice that, despite (or perhaps because of their youth), our students have important lessons to share.
As teachers and teaching artists, we’re immersed in what we should be teaching them, and sometimes we overlook lessons that our students can share with us.
As Teacher Appreciation Week draws to a close, we at CARE Actor are recognizing all teachers: for the long hours they’ve worked, the number of clothes now covered in chalk dust, and lunch breaks that aren’t really breaks at all. We are also shining a light on our students, because sometimes they are the best teachers!
Question of the Day!
Do you have any funny or inspiring stories learned from a kid? Perhaps your kiddo has dropped some wisdom at the dinner table, in the car, or on the playground? We’d love to hear it!
Share your stories with us in the comments section of this post or on our CARE Actor Community page on Facebook!
Use hashtag #CAREActorKids in your comment or post, and your story may be featured on our social channels. Sign up for our free e-newsletter HERE.
by Norah Vawter
What is IMPROV?
Improvisational theater is the art of coming up with something out of nothing. No script. No direction. Maybe a prop if you’re lucky. You stay in the moment, and you don’t overthink. Starting with a blank canvas, you add to the scene as you go along – using your body, voice, and imagination to paint the scene. You can be silly, even ridiculous!
At CARE Actor, we’ve found that improv helps kids to open up and helps parents to find fresh ways to interact with their families. It also aids problem solving and team building.
This is why we developed Family Improv Events, where parents and kids can learn and laugh together!
Video credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
What are the benefits of learning the art of improv? Here are seven ways improv helps families be families:
1. “Yes, And...” is the first rule of improv and the basis for many improv exercises. What's the big deal and how does it apply to parenting? It's an alternative to saying a straight yes or a straight no. When you say yes, and ... you validate your child's feelings without giving in to unreasonable requests. This parent gives a great example of how to use improv lingo when faced with a stubborn kid. Want to learn how to play “Yes, Let's”? Check out our recent blog post on friendship.
2. Families who improv together collaborate together, in so many ways. This article from Second City, aimed at teachers, applies to families as well. “Improv teaches participants to step up when another idea is needed (taking the focus) and to cede the floor when another student wants to share (giving the focus).”
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
3. Comic Mike Birbiglia agrees that improv is key to teamwork, collaboration, and getting stuff done as a group. “The rules of improv, I believe, are so profound because they apply to almost any kind of collaboration. ... Number one: Say yes. Two: It's all about the group. And three: Don't think.”
4. Keep yourselves sane during road trips! Second City has a list of suggested games for the whole family to play when stuck in a car for a long drive. Go beyond counting license plates by getting silly and creative with activities like “One Word at a Time” and “1001 Mermaids Go Into a Juice Bar.”
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
5. It's a powerful tool for helping all kids get in touch with their emotions, regardless of what makes a particular kid special. Researchers at Indiana University are even working with children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, to help them share emotions and understand others' feelings. According to one researcher, Jim Ansaldo, “What improv really does is create a safe and fun and authentic environment in which to practice, where mistakes really don't matter.” We think lessons like these apply to all of us.
6. Want to help your kids trust themselves? Alan Alda, who co-founded the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York, believes improv is a tool for building trust. He says [improv]'s humor “is not a jokey kind of humor. It’s the pleasure of spontaneity. So that if something occurs to you in that split second, it’s free to come out. You trust it, you trust yourself.”
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
7. Improv teaches us to stay in the moment. This mom talks about improv teaching her to not overthink, but to be in the present. She says, “[practicing being in the moment when on stage] is highly valuable for anyone who has been dragged down a five-year-old’s rabbit hole of ‘...at my next birthday party, I’m gonna....’ Being in the moment short-circuits your lingering work angst and inspires you to yell, 'Today IS your birthday!' and print out a bunch of cupcake toppers just for the heck of it.”
This month at CARE Actor, we're gearing up for new Family Improv Events, on April 21 and April 22. We'd love to see you there! In these events, we’ll even introduce activities you can do at home. Browse our blog for more at-home improv, such as One Word at a Time, Walking Blind, Mirror, and more.
Photo credit: CARE Actor Family Improv
If you've participated in Family Improv in the past, or seen your kids transformed by improv in classes or camps, sound off in the comments below! Have you found that improv, or other creative pursuits, helps your family's group dynamic? Share tips and tricks on social media, and be sure to use hashtags #careactorkids and #CAREaboutfamilyimprov. Your idea may even be featured!
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