“The Box, Tampa, and Me”

By David Wheeler

Can I be real with you for a second?
Like, really real?
Yes?
Okay, good.

About three years ago, I moved here from Kentucky to be a professor at the University of Tampa. And I love the job. I also love the sunshine, the palm trees, the Spanish moss that grows on southern live oaks, and the manager’s special at Jason’s Deli on Fowler. I’m a man of simple pleasures.

But something was missing.

My people. My group. My collaborative mission. And a goal to work toward with this group. Where would I find such a thing?

Enter The Box, stage right. Never in a million theater seasons would I have imagined that improvisational comedy would be the missing ingredient in my Tampa life, but it surely was. Turns out I fit in well with creative types who like to perform. And I’m starting to realize that the lessons you learn in improv class are equally applicable to daily life. These life lessons come from my fabulous Box instructors (in chronological order of when they taught me): Michele, Alain, Paulie, Crystal, Rebecca, and Andrew.

Give yourself a challenge.

In the middle of my first performance in my Level 1 student showcase, I was pretending to be a DJ at a radio station. But there was no conflict, no tension, no pressure in the scene. Only after leaving the stage did I remember that I could have given myself a challenge — for example, pretending that I got a call from the station manager saying this was our last day on the air. What would I do if it was my last day on the air? In a way, improv is like embodying the advice about “living every day like it’s your last.” The Box helps me remember to challenge myself.

Be more specific.

I’m always telling my students to be more specific in the papers and articles they write for my class. But how often in our daily lives do we remember to be specific? How often, in the stories we tell people, do we remember to add the “telling detail”? In one of our classes, Crystal gave a great example. If you’re on stage, you can hold up a cupped hand and say, “Look at this!” Or you can hold up a cupped hand and say, “Look at this one-eyed toad!” Only one of those spurs a flood of creativity. Specificity encourages creativity.

You can never “yes and” too much.

The Box also taught me what Jim Carrey’s character from “Yes Man,” has known since 2008: Saying “yes” to opportunities leads to an infinitely more creative life, with untold opportunities for growth. This tenet of improv is one reason why this form of comedy works with my personality more than other forms. Because it’s about teamwork. It’s about building something together. It’s about making each other look good. It’s about the community more than the individual.

One time my classmate Taylor constructively pointed out when I’d negated my classmate Anne in a scene. I didn’t even realize I had done it. But once it was pointed out to me, I made a conscious effort to say “yes” to new assertions as they arose. I made sure to accept — and add to — what my teammates gave me. That’s also not a bad way to live your life.

David Wheeler

 

David Wheeler is a journalism professor at The University of Tampa and a frequent contributor to CNN and The Atlantic. Follow him on Twitter @WheelerWorkshop.

Meet The Improv Teams

 

We currently have 6 house teams at The Box Theater. Our improvisers often mix up to create new performance themes in Pop Up Shows outside of our main season.

 

 

Humble beginnings

I love Chicago. There is something that draws me to that city, improv aside, it calls to me like a siren and I am easily wooed. Last year when I visited, it was the dead of winter. I always think it is somewhat miraculous when you can be in warm beautiful weather and bitter freezing cold in the same 24-hour period. The one environment makes you forget the

FullSizeRender 2other exists.

For this visit, I was on a mission. I wanted to see countless hours of improv. I wanted to be moved, to be inspired, and to remember why I fell in love with theater in the first place.

My first visit to Chicago was probably 15 years ago. I remember dragging my
older sister through the streets of the city from one humble venue to another until the wee hours of the morning. My sister, a non-performer and mother of 2 or 3 kids at the time-(I honestly can’t recall), was a willing companion. At the time, we visited each space. There were no frills. The performers lit up the tiny stages. I remember being packed into a crowded IO Theater and being so close to the performers, I could touch them.  On another trip, when I begged my brother to come along, we visited The Annoyance Theater. It was a simple room with plain folding chairs and an old piano on the side of the audience. The players were the shiniest thing in the room. They breathed life into these ordinary spaces.

The words of a college professor echoed in my mind, “Theater is created with a space, a performer, and an audience.”

Seeing those small spaces and raw performances, it was clear these artists redefined the boundaries between stage and audience, and without all the bells and whistles-they made art. No excuses. It was small and simple.

When I first started doing improv, I read everything I could get my hands on and fast learned that behind the scenes, these small movements had starters firing the gun to initiate creativity-an improv maker.

In much of the U.S. I’d argue that some of the most innovative improv happens in small obscure spaces such as these and whatever visionary is “behind the curtains,”-people pay little to no attention to them, but they are there.

So when I returned a year ago, I was struck by the explosion of improv. All of these humble beginnings have turned into beautiful facilities with multiple classrooms and theaters in each space. I had to push through people to get in. Being there, I almost forgot there was something small years ago. The one environment made me forget the other ever existed.

But it did. Small things grow into bigger things. There was a visionary, seen or unseen- and now I was witnessing the fruit of their work.  I couldn’t help but be encouraged. There is something special in the small, a kind of intimacy, that prepares for the bigger. The self-effacing visionaries in the work of improvisation understand this. 

When I heard about Jason Chin, passing away, I read an article that said he would sweep and mop the IO stage floor before shows. I was struck by that. Chin, a greatly loved improv giant, made the stage ready for creative genius. He swept the remnants of the previous night’s improv shows and yesterday’s classes-to ready it for something bigger.  He was an improv maker…making a way for the small to transform into the big and for me to witness yet another performance so I can be reminded why I love improv.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones…” Luke 16:10

The Box Theater Improv Classes

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A modern mix of tasteful tradition.-3

 An Overview

for everyoneIf you’re a big fan of watching , it’s time you got into the act! Get ready to have a blast! There are guidelines that can direct the performer towards success.  These classes offer an array of skills that include supporting others, character work, listening, teamwork, story building, scene work, and the basic elements of comedy.  At The Box, students will learn these fundamentals of acting in a supportive, fun-loving and nurturing environment.

IMPROV (3)

IMPROV FOR EVERYONE-LEVEL I 
Age 18 and up
6 weeks.  $175
TUESDAYS June 14-July 19 (2016) 7-9pm

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 SCENES FROM THE INSIDE OUT-LEVEL II 
Age 18 and up
6
 Weeks $175
MONDAYS, March 21- April 25
REGISTER FOR IMPROV LEVEL II

 

Adult Improv I-An Introduction to Improvisation*
Adult Improv II-Focuses on character and scene work.
Adult Improv III-Focuses on games and performance.
Adult Improv IV-Longform Improvisation*
Adult Improv V-Performance Group Coaching* (Audition only)
*Offered this fall depending on interest and enrollment.
CRYSTAL F. HARALAMBOU-After graduating with a degree in Theater from the University of South Florida, Crystal  successfully completed all levels at SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando. Falling in love with improvisation, she applied for the Joyce Sloane Scholarship and was awarded the opportunity to attend the Funny Women Festival at the renowned Second City in Chicago. From there she performed with a local troupe for over 3 years and went on to receive an Individual Artist Grant from the State of Florida to attend intensive training with Artistic New Directions in New York. There she studied long-form improvisation under Michael Gellman (Head of Advanced Studies, Second City Chicago), David Razowsky (Former Artistic Director of Second City), Gary Austin (Founder of the Groundlings, LA), and Ali Reza Farahnakian (former SNL writer and founder of The Pit NYC). In the spring of 2009, she formed her own troupe and called it Dear Aunt Gertrude.  It’s currently performing at The Box, a studio theater in Ybor City. Dear Aunt Gertrude had the opportunity to open for The Upright Citizen’s Brigade Touring Company out of New York City this past spring and was also invited to participate on the Mainstage at the 2011 Sarasota Improv Festival. During this busy season, Crystal also completed another Intensive course in long-form improvisation, this time with Joe Bill at Improv Olympic in Chicago. In addition, she has participated in countless workshops alongside famed improvisers,  the likes of which include Jill Bernard, Melora Hardin and Mark Sutton. She worked as Program Manager for Theater with The Patel Conservatory at The David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts for four years, as well as serving as a teaching artist and director in their education program. She has a strong background in teaching Theater and holds a certification in Education from the State of Florida. She is currently a teaching artist with The Marcia P. Hoffman Performing Arts Institute at Ruth Eckerd Hall and runs The Box Theater. If it sounds like she’s passionate about improv, it’s because she is.