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We help organizations that work with disadvantaged or troubled youth. We do it by creating interactive improv skits — what we call PLAYTIME — prepared especially for your organization.

The two ways we help are:

  1. Creating events for fun or to reinforce or help move youth further in your program’s goals
  2. Teaching and training adults who work with kids how to use games and improv skills.

We can involve any kind of youth, whether immobilized on a stretcher or with any level of mental, emotional or physical challenge.

Examples of goals might be working on cooperation, self-esteem or specific therapeutic goals. Goals for specific relationships could be to increase comfort and familiarity, to lighten difficult relationships, or to prepare for specific kinds of cooperation. Most kinds of goals are possible.

Of course, as Improv theater and comedy performers and trainers, there is a wide range of things we can do. We teach how to use theater and improv techniques to work with youth, and can create custom trainings or performances for orientations, trainings and stakeholder events.

We utilize experienced professional theater artists, many of whom are currently performing throughout the Twin Cities, as well as volunteers learning our techniques to serve our community’s youth to create training, programs or events utilizing theater and comedy Improv techniques to:

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  1. Empower, uplift and provide new perspective to youth;
  2. Educate volunteers in working with youth groups;
  3. Create new models for cooperation between youth and volunteers;
  4. Communicate your vision, mission and goals in new and fresh ways.

While we like to impact and empower youth directly in small and large group events, popular uses of our service include creating new ways of communicating at special organization events (such as orientations, trainings and stakeholder events) and training leaders in useful theatrical techniques for engaging and creating cooperation in groups.

How do I get started?

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After a brief initial phone consultation comes an in-person meeting to establish program goals, goals for each youth, and goals for specific relationships (staff-youth or youth-youth).

This could be done as a quick overview to set general directions, or can be as specific as is needed or desired. I’ve written below some brief details on how this can go, and provided one specific example of how an event can go. There are many, many approaches, but I’ve found providing some specifics to be helpful.

Examples of program goals could be to create familiarity and confidence about a difficult upcoming event for the youth, or to emphasize an empowering perspective about the situation youth are in, etc. Many kinds of goals are possible.

Examples of goals for each youth might be working on cooperation, self-esteem or specific therapeutic goals. Goals for specific relationships could be to increase comfort and familiarity, to lighten difficult relationships, or to prepare for specific kinds of cooperation. Again, many kinds of goals are possible.

Our theater professionals (“coaches”) then facilitate the involvement of staff and youth in prepared fun and games activities designed to activate the chosen goals. Staff can also be quickly trained as partial facilitators in many structures and games. Experience has shown us which elements of theater are the most engaging to a range of ages, and provide the greatest opportunity to create positive goal experiences. More extensive training of staff to learn tools they can use now and in the future is also available.

We often suggest that group photos be taken throughout and if so approved, each youth then receives a photo and a praise and thank-you letter from the theater coaches for their participation at a later date. The letter can be sent later regardless of photo. Staff can use this letter at a key time to help the youth with specific issues, or simply to later reinforce their positive participation. (Staff assists in choosing the photo most empowering to each youth, and in creating a letter to assist each youth with their issues. In cases where mostly staff perform, the most disarming photo is generally the most interesting to the youth.)

How about an example?

Here is an example of using one of our custom-designed techniques at an event, the “Babbling Slide Show.” All youth in a group (regardless of physical or emotional condition) can take a turn participating in this activity. If the group is small, all youth can participate simultaneously. For larger groups, youth are divided into teams, each taking their turn “on stage,” which can be any area. Believe us, once this starts, everyone clamors to be involved – it’s very popular!

3-7 volunteer players are chosen from client youth, and possibly some pre-prepared staff, to stand behind a cloth where they cannot be seen, and contort into funny positions together as a group. A coach assists them. They freeze in a funny position, and then the cloth is dropped and their frozen position is described as if it were a picture in a slide show. After being described, the cloth is raised and a new position is chosen, the cloth dropped, and a new “picture” is described. After each picture is described, a description such as “And what this teaches us is …” is added.

Each time BEFORE anyone can see the youth players frozen into a picture position (before the cloth is dropped), something about the picture is randomly assigned by drawing prepared suggestions from a hat, such as “How this program would be different if it were run by squirrels and what this teaches us,” or “This is a picture of tiny things seen under a microscope, and how studying them led to creating this program,” etc. This is a fun moment where the audience tries to match the description with the funny picture in front of them, and then see how the descriptions will proceed. These descriptions are created in advance to align with goals such as preparing youth for upcoming milestones, to create a lightened or humorous perspective toward difficult or challenging parts of your program, etc.

Before beginning, 1-3 additional youth players are assigned to describe the slides. Each is assigned a coach-interpreter, because players will be required to speak in a babble language that they will make up. As they speak, the coach will “interpret” what it is they are saying. Coaches whisper tips and encourage and query them in babble as they begin their “descriptions.”

So this utilizes three theater coaches, and at least four youth players (more is better).

Afterwards, youth players line up and receive applause as a group, and are called forward one-by-one with their coach joining and praising them to receive their individual award (participation) certificates, announcing that it is for an achievement category such as “Great poise, cooperation, and the most skilled display of what a dog flying looks like any of us have ever seen!” Consultation before each award determines wording of the award announcement. One coach helps the audience to applaud, the other coach helps the other players to applaud, and the third stands with the youth receiving the award and applauds and praises them.

Each coach uses multiple opportunities built into the theater planning to help move forward any goals for each individual youth (such as working on cooperation, self-esteem, specific relationships, etc.) and for the program or group as a whole. Any moment can be made an opportunity to activate goals.

This approach makes use of two theater activities we have found to be very engaging. Everyone enjoys getting in and seeing others get into funny positions. Even when a are several children on stretchers with one or more standing volunteers everyone has a lot of fun. Also, having a youth intentionally babble in a mysterious language is very popular. The babbler and the audience both love it.

I look forward to learning how we can help your program!

– Dave Larson
Director, New Reality Delivery Service
Youth Acting and Improv Instructor, Academy for Film and Television

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