14 Sep Theater Group Leads Zen Improv Classes in Natural Setting
Experiencing nature and all of its splendors relaxes and regenerates the soul. For that reason, a group of about 50 urbanites interested in learning improvisation head from New York City to just such a bucolic setting for the weekend — Baker Camp in Sloatsburg, New York – where Manhattan-based Peoples Improv Theater (PIT) provides the golden opportunity to experience nature, Zen and improvisation.
The surroundings at Baker Camp are serene and picturesque with its log cabins, peaceful lake and campfire circle. Some of the “campers” are improv first-timers, but there also are seasoned veterans looking to hone their craft.
In the Zen & the Art of Motorcy workshop, taught by Jake Keefe, participants lie down for 20 minutes of mediation before improv scenes begin. His soothing voice puts all at ease. Everyone focuses on his mantra: “I am calming my body, I am smiling. This is a wonderful moment.” With eyes closed, additional sounds are heard: Other visiting campers’ laughter, the cicadas’ humming and birds’ chirping. Jake says, “Be aware of this moment, and only this moment. Zen is breathing and existing and being present. So is improv.”
PIT Founder Ali Reza Farahnakian’s vision for the improv theater that he began in 2002 is to both perform and develop original comedy, as well as to entertain and educate in a safe and nurturing environment. What better way to experience improv than in this idyllic setting?
Another mantra guiding all who improvise is “Yes, and…” This reminds the performer to accept the situation and set up, then expand upon it. As Ali noted, “For those here at Baker Camp, ‘Yes, and…’ begins with their desire to leave the city and come to the woods to connect with their spirit.”
These students even incorporate improvising art, creating mini statues built from the camp’s rocks and stones—impromptu works of nature—a New York Stonehenge, if you will. So, it becomes a lesson that goes beyond the stage and performing, and imparts the value of possessing a keen sense of awareness to help in everyday life.
Blair Silverman, attending for the first time, said, “A sense of community is heightened here. You are free to be you and be in the moment. It is very accepting.”
Instructor Joe Galan heads the Clown for the Improviser workshop where Macaela Sears and Blair improvised a scene while taking turns juggling. As they performed the three mid-air balls fell and scattered all over. They retrieved them in triumph, and as they made their exit, Joe exclaimed, “Leave with something beautiful!” And then they bowed passionately amidst thunderous audience applause.
And all leave with something beautiful after a weekend of replenishing and reenergizing the soul—ready to return to the urban jungle more rejuvenated. As long as one is present in the moment with “yes, and” as a mantra to live by, then more laughter, inner peace and “wonderful moments” can be achieved.