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The Young Professionals At OCT Present IMPULSE XIV: LEVEL UP

For the first time, improv comedy goes virtual; livestreaming for two weekends in February.

The Young Professionals Company at Oregon Children's Theatre (OCT) takes its annual improv performance Impulse! to the virtual stage this February. Portland's premier teen improv group will be livestreaming their performances February 12-21. In doing so, they are trailblazers in their industry by presenting an extended run of live, free, virtual improv.

The Young Professionals Company (YPs), the award-winning teen mentoring program at OCT, rose to the unique challenge of producing shows for a virtual platform amid the COVID-19 pandemic; the company has produced two virtual performances this season, including a three-part series of original works and a full-length production of In the Forest She Grew Fangs by Stephen Spotswood. However, from the beginning of the YP season, Impulse! director Blake Wales knew performing improv virtually would be a different type of challenge. "Improv comedy relies on the in-the-moment 'feedback' from a live audience," Wales explained. "We had to figure out a way to keep an audience engaged without being together in the same physical space. Without an audience's energy to react to, the teens had to hone their comedic instincts to keep the scenes moving."

Impulse! rehearsals began in November 2020. Teens met three times a week for three-hour long virtual rehearsals. They worked together to learn the different improvisation games, crafting 60-minute "sets" while developing their skills and building an ensemble. However, since improv games are often physical in nature, Wales and the troupe had to play creatively and find a way to adapt the games for an online platform. "We had to get rid of all the mental boundaries about what 'can't work' or 'won't work,'" Wales stated. "We had to work collaboratively and learn together about how we could adapt the games and create an engaging online performance."

Once the improv games were adapted and the rehearsal process was underway, OCT's production team mounted its challenge of livestreaming for the first time. "While we have done several on-demand streaming performances, this is our first 'live' online performance, which carries its own set of challenges and had a completely different learning curve," explained Artistic Director Marcella Crowson. "I am humbled by the enormous task our production team undertook to learn how we would achieve this, and how our staff members stepped up to work together and make this performance happen."

Since improv relies heavily on audience interaction, the troupe and production team are posed with the challenge of incorporating audience participation in an effective and efficient way. While the audience won't be able to interact with the teens during the performance, they will be given audience "prompts" before the live show begins, which the teens will use to influence their games during the show. Additionally, due to the livestreaming nature of the performance, the troupe also had to be prepared for any potential "technical difficulties," and be ready to creatively incorporate those difficulties into the show.

Wales, a former Young Professional and Impulse! troupe member himself, knew there were unique challenges with this performance but was confident that the teens would still benefit from the creative process. "When we first began the rehearsal process, we acknowledged that it was going to be very different from other processes in the past," he said. "Some of the teens originally had lower expectations for this year, but as we worked together to creatively adapt our improv sets, we all felt energized and engaged. The uniqueness of this process provided an avenue for a profound creativity that was as empowering virtually as during in-person rehearsals."

Impulse! is recommended for ages 7 and up, and will perform live for two weekends: February 12, 13, 19, and 20 at 7:30 pm, February 14 & 21 at 2:00 pm; and one special, late-night performance on Feb. 20 at 9:00 pm (which is recommended for ages 14 and up). These online performances will be free to watch, but donations are encouraged to help offset the production costs. Donations can be made online at octc.org/donate.


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