Improv competes with Del Norte

Lucy Sullivan, Opinions Editor

Cassandra Nguyen (12) and Kyle Dillon (11) work on developing their improv technical skills before the Feb. 11 competition with Del Norte. They are practicing setting their objectives for the Improv exercise. Photo by Lucy Sullivan.

Since the pandemic started, there have been few opportunities for the Improv team to compete. But on Feb. 11, the team hosted and won their first inter-school competition show since schools returned to in-person instruction. In the show, they battled the Del Norte Improv team through a series of games and exercises for the ultimate title of the funniest group.
Throughout the approximately two-hour show, both teams participated in improv exercises, getting suggestions from the audience about concepts that they should build their scenes around.
Audience participants were chosen by Westview’s referee and coach, Adam Rudder, and the winner of each round of games was chosen by one of two objective judges, Lord Voice and Lady Voice, who were played over the speakers in the theater.
The show had been in the works for two months, according to team captain Cassandra Ngyuen (12).
“[Coordinating the show] was actually quite the process,” Ngyuen said. “It was first reaching out to Del Norte to see if they would like to do a show together, then arranging a lot of logistical things [like] how it would possibly work with 24 people on stage.”
Nguyen and her co-captain Tyler Shaw (12) said that despite the chaos that came with a larger scale competition, the results were well worth the planning.
“We invited them to our practices and they invited us to their practices,” Shaw said. “We just started to sort of hang out and get to know each other better. The worst thing that can happen on an improv team is you don’t know the people [well, and that] you haven’t spent enough time with them. But now that the show’s over, I think [Ngyuen] and I can both say that a lot of people from Del Norte we consider to be our friends.”
Nguyen said that improv is a skill that takes vulnerability, as it requires the performers to give their all to both their teammates and audience. Everyone feeds off of eachother’s energy.
A lack of trust between the performers on stage can be detrimental to the ease of the show.
“Our coach always says, ‘We are very much trained by our society to think before we speak,’ which makes sense in most scenarios,” Ngyuen said. “But then on stage, oftentimes you have to override that [instinct].”
Along with becoming comfortable with the performers from Del Norte, Westview Improv also trained for the show twice a week in the months leading up to the competition. They have access to a unique asset, coach and professional improviser Adam Rudder.
Through monthly practices with Rudder, the team is able to learn and practice different improvisational techniques that he puts together for them.
“[Rudder is] definitely a resource that Westview Improv specifically has that a bunch of other improv teams don’t have, so we may pick [up skills] from him, [and] we have [also] been taught from past captains [as well about] what works for them, and things to keep in mind,” Shaw said. “It just gets passed down through the generations, and we push them on to the next people.”
According to Ngyuen, the skills needed for improv are not unlike those needed for any other form of performing arts.
However, what differentiates improv from the rest of the performing arts, is how improv has to be the perfect marriage of thinking about both everything at once, and worrying about nothing at all.
While the spontaneity of improv makes it difficult to be fully prepared for, practicing is essential to an improviser’s success.
“I know there’s a lot of irony in the fact that we have to practice for improv or plan for improv shows,” Ngyuen said. “But it’s kind of like sports. When you’re playing a sport, you’re never 100% sure what’s going to go down on the field, but you have to know the game really well. [With improv, you need to know] your techniques really well in order to perform well.”
The specific techniques used in improv will be especially important at their upcoming competition in Fullerton, where technicality is prioritized by judges.
While the team looks forward to their future shows in April and at the end of the school year, they know that the lessons they gained at this show and prior ones will be crucial. Shaw said that the competition show was more rewarding than he could have expected, and he is looking foward to going over a tape of the show to see what went well, and what the team can improve upon.
“Last night was a blast and everything we expected and more,” Shaw said. “When we promoted the show, we had this idea for [marketing and preparing for it as a competition]. It’s a really special occasion when you get to unite the school under this one umbrella of, ‘We are all Wolverines. We’re going to take on Del Norte. They’re our turf. We have to defend it. This is our family.’ And I think it really paid off.”