Heather DeLude-Grillo on Improv

Second City Conservatory grad Heather DeLude, teaches English and theater arts at Wilton High School and runs improv workshops and shows with her group Freeplay at the school’s Little Theater. She also teaches improv at Images Workshop/Debra Somerville Studio and Westport Community Theatre. Here, she shares thoughts on learning and teaching the skills. (Contact her at: deludeh@wiltonps.org.)

GETTING INTO IMPROV: “I started as a teenager in Orlando, Florida, taking classes at Sak Comedy Lab. Wayne Brady was a fellow teen performing on the main stage at the time and I was very inspired by what I observed. When I got to college at the University of Florida, the competition for traditional theatrical roles was fierce in the BFA/MFA program, particularly for females. I saw an audition notice for Theatre Strike Force, an improvisational comedy troupe, and was already familiar with the tenets of improvisation. Through this troupe I became completely immersed in the art form, traveling to improv festivals all over the country to learn and perform with master teachers such as Del Close, Martin de Maat, David Koechner/Adam McKay, Paul Sills, Gary Austin, and more. Upon graduation I moved to Chicago with intent to make a living in the world of improvisation. Comedy, in general, was a world that was dominated by males. I knew my chances of landing spots on performing troupes were better as a female. Within a short time of being there, I found myself taking classes and/or performing with the The Second City Conservatory, Improv Olympic, The Annoyance Theater, and ComedySportz.”

TEACHING: “Opportunities continued to arise to teach or coach as improv quickly took off nationwide and festivals and theaters began to spring up everywhere. I was able to support myself full-time teaching, as well as continue to perform and audition part-time. I felt great joy watching others discover the absolute zen of improv, the way I had so many years before. To think I had anything to do with them discovering this great gift in their lives made me supremely happy. After moving to Connecticut and starting a family, I went back to school and obtained my teaching certificate so I could continue working teaching theater in the public school system. I have continued to find a great audience and appreciation for improv in the Fairfield County area, both in the public and private sector, and particularly in Weston, Westport, and Wilton.”

Teaching Adults: “Adults have an advantage of a broader range of life experience to draw from, but kids have the advantage of familiarity with play. Adults often have to be re-taught how to play, which basically consists of them letting go and simply giving themselves permission to do so.”

DEFINING IMPROV: “Improv is not just making up stuff on the spot. It is also not an individual art…The audience also plays a unique role in the creation of the art by offering suggestions in which the scenes are inspired by. The result is often funny, but not always. I follow the principles in Del Close’s and Charna Halpern’s—both my past teachers at Improv Olympic—book Truth in Comedy, which stresses authenticity over quick jokes. The ‘moves’ made in a scene are similar to an intellectual, yet creative, chess match with each player finding, exploring and heightening ‘games’ within the scene.”

NATURAL ARTISTS: “People from all backgrounds and all ages can be good at this. They simply need to be willing to take some ‘safe risks.’ They should like other people and come with an expectation of engaging in focused play.”



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