The improvisational group Room for Improvement is reforming at Berkeley High School (BHS), a tradition that helps aspiring actors explore themselves as team members.
“[Members] are not necessarily the most experienced actors, but [are] the kids comfortable enough to listen…, to fail…, [to] say ‘yes,’” said Jordan Winer, an English teacher at BHS who has also directed student-run shows and taught drama classes. His 7th period drama class of 2018, fittingly for what it would become, evolved by an implicit group agreement into Room for Improvement, a troupe for a collective journey through the improv art form, with no strings and no guidelines. “It wasn’t our original plan for the class, but kind of slowly morphed as time went on,” said Enzo Osorio, who graduated BHS in 2020 and was a founding member of Room for Improvement who ended up giving it its name. When it was active in its first run, the group was impactful to Osorio. “I’m thankful for being able to do weird, wacky, zany things with that group of people that shaped me… into who I am [and]… [got] me out of my comfort zone,” he said. The group faded after Osorio’s class graduated, but now a new crop of students is being given the opportunity to audition for the program and the drama class.
Paloma Citrin, a sophomore at BHS, is looking to Room for Improvement and 7th period drama to find a potential community. “[Improv] scares me, but it’s fun… when you’re with people who are into it and know what they’re doing,” she said. Her previous theater experience is minimal, but she hopes that through Room for Improvement she will find a space of like-minded actors ready to help each other succeed.
BHS sophomore Delilah Sophia-Siegel wants to use the program’s built-in uncertainty to build her courage in theater. She started drama work doing tech for Willard Middle’s plays, but found herself wanting to take on a more visible role where she would switch to acting. “I have really enjoyed being able to play a character on stage,” she said. Sophia-Siegel is currently involved with this years’ BHS production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and is working on writing her own plays, and hopes to build her improvisational experience by joining the group. “With the unexpectedness of improv comes more confidence on stage,” she said.
At auditions, Sophia-Siegel and Citrin met about twenty people also looking to join the class, split into two group auditions over a couple days. Initial auditions were followed by callback auditions, where groups got shaken up and mixed around.
“A lot of improv is about making room for other people and making your scene partner look good,” said Citrin. As a result, those who auditioned were evaluated not on individual merit but how well they could participate in various improvisational games with others. According to Osorio, the improv games at the audition were quite similar to what the original Room for Improvement used to hone skills. “We used them both when we were performing and when we were workshopping,” Osorio said. Games might look like Bus Stop, where one actor sits on an imaginary seat and the rest of the ensemble tries to scare them off it, or Scenes From a Hat, where the cast generates a whole scene from randomly drawn audience suggestions. Citrin recalls hosting an imaginary board meeting as well as doing a game called Freeze: “We would do a scene… in pairs [but] at some point, someone would call freeze and replace one of the people… you would keep switching in and out,” she said.
Winer’s seventh period, in the past couple years, would have been hamstrung by the construction on the A Building – now that it is finished, his class will have ample space to discover themselves as actors. “It’s really fun to finally have a place for theater,” Citrin said.