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High school improv teams battle — with laughter

ComedySportz gives drama students chance to ‘keep their chops warm’
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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These teenagers are definitely not shy.

They speak in silly accents, contort their bodies, dance around and dramatically express emotions — all in front of an audience as part of Roseville High School’s ComedySportz team.

Roseville High School, along with Oakmont, Woodcreek and Granite Bay high schools participate in a national league of improvisational comedy teams.

During a match, typically held twice a month, players perform scenes based on audience suggestions to earn points from the crowd. Audience members vote for the winner of each round. The format is similar to the television show “Whose Line is it Anyway?”

For Roseville High School junior Jeana Pecha, creating cheap laughs — a match costs attendees $5 each — is part of the enjoyment.

“It’s funny and the audience participates,” Pecha says.

Roseville’s group won the Sacramento regional tournament last season and placed third in the northern California competition against dozens of other teams.

During a recent practice held in a campus theater, about 15 students warm up by playing Little Sally Walker, where participants stand in a circle and sing “little Sally Walker walking down the street …” as the person inside the circle walks around and stops in front of a teammate. That person does a funny dance, which the outside person mimics.

Next, the team plays Dirty Hand Randy, which requires a quick response to a question when pointed at by the facilitator. The first question: types of bread. Responses: grain, moldy, sourdough, potato, bread you find under a bus. Players who don’t respond fast enough, or who repeat an answer, are eliminated.

Drama teacher Stuart Smith says ComedySportz helps drama students develop their performance skills when they’re not in the middle of a production.

“What’s great is it keeps their chops warm,” Smith says.

This is Roseville’s sixth season and fifth as an individual team — the first year they were part of an all-district team with Oakmont and Granite Bay. The league is still young and matches tend to be irregularly scheduled.

After the bread question, players respond to types of video games, cheese, cereal, articles of clothing, new movies and favorite past-time activities, to which junior Mason Dodson replies: “making bagels in the school cafeteria.”

“Last year, (the team) looked really fun and I regretted not joining,” Dodson says. “(The best part) is hearing people laugh at what you say.”

These teens laugh pretty much nonstop at practice. During another game, they act out a scene and then freeze when a new person enters the scene and replaces them. The goal is to quickly adapt to changing scenes and dialogue.

“They have to work on statements, not questions,” Smith says, observing the students and calling out instructions. “Move from denial toward acceptance. Physical, physical, physical! Use of space!”

Team Captain Michael Levine joined the team freshman year — he’s now a senior. He’s considering a future career in musical theater or standup comedy.

“I’ve gotten stronger with my public speaking skills and I’m breaking out of my shell,” Levine says.

His team is working to build the program by holding regular practices and matches.

“We’re building chemistry together and you know someone will help you if you fall,” Levine says. “I hope people come and support things like this because (improv) is pretty much a dying breed and to bring it back is such an honor.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.

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Roseville High School’s ComedySportz team
What:
Match vs. Woodcreek High School
When: 7 p.m. Friday, April 28
Where: J.B. Gale Theater, Roseville High School, 1 Tiger Way
Cost: $5. Free for RHS “Moeller Maniacs”