Forget stage fright: Attend this workshop

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Ever wanted to try acting, but didn’t know where to start?

Riverdale Neighborhood House is offering a chance to do just that through the return of its improvisational theatre workshops this week and running through Nov. 20.

Noted theatre expert Terry Herbert brings her 40 years of experience to the 5521 Mosholu Ave., center to lead the class. Having both acted and directed productions beginning as a teenager and well into adulthood, Herbert says she’s excited to bring improvisational acting back to Riverdale.

“When making any work of art, you start with a sketch before you add color,” Herbert said. “With improvisational acting, you warm up so you can feel comfortable. And then you have a great group of people who can perform.”

The workshops stem from an adult theatre group Herbert began last year at the neighborhood house. It focused on actors reading plays around a table in a much more structured environment.

For the improvisational workshops, Herbert wanted to allow actors to “start slowly and tap into their creativity,” helping people feel less self-conscious when it comes to acting.

“What began as a simple theatre group turned into a fun evening with friends and neighbors,” said Rob Adelman, the neighborhood house’s health and harmony programs director. “People couldn’t stop talking about it. Everyone really enjoyed it.”

The workshops are open to anyone no matter what experience or proper training — or lack thereof — they’ve had in the past. The point of the workshops is to explore the craft of improvisational acting, Herbert said, allowing participants to loosen up and have fun in the process.

Improvisational acting, or “improv,” allows someone to “make things up” as they go. It’s the kind of technique popularized by television shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway?” with host Drew Carey where much of what happens on stage — or in front of the cameras — is unplanned or unscripted. Those who wish to be a part of the workshops can expect an energizing and fun environment, Herbert said, where they can learn a new craft and maybe even explore their untapped creativity.

“With improv, you aren’t forced into memorizing lines,” Herbert said. “You find your situation 30 seconds before, and take it from there.”

Improv allows actors a chance to “let go,” she added. They don’t feel constrained, and can even revert back to childhood activities like “make pretend” through acting.

“What is acting? What is theatre?” asked Herbert. “When you improvise, you create theatre. You are the author, actor and producer. You use your own experiences to create theatre.”

Improv actors often draw on sources of inspiration or audience suggestions to create that theatre. The techniques learned in the neighborhood house workshops allow those actors to use those inspirations without the fear of an audience’s approval — or disapproval.

Learning improv isn’t just about acting or comedy. Such techniques could be applied to everyday activities like public speaking, or even work negotiations.

And, Herbert says, there’s strength in numbers.

“The larger the group of actors, the better,” she said. “Everyone can act, and everyone can improvise. This is something everyone has to try.”

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Riverdale Neighborhood House has revised the dates since this story originally went to print. This digital version of the story reflects those updates. 

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