“Improvisation is theater for everybody.”
I watched a group of about 15 individuals file in one by one into our cafeteria at Hi-Hope. You don’t know quite what to expect when you schedule different volunteers and classes for our individuals. Some days are better than others. No one thing is ever a guarantee. It’s one of the most challenging aspects of our jobs, but also one of the most rewarding. But it became clear rather quickly that Casey Whitaker’s improv class would be different. It would be something special.
Our improv instructor, Casey, instructed the group to gather around and opened the class with an ice breaker, called Small Circle. She started the activity by introducing herself and incorporating a gesture. The individual beside her introduced themselves, then mimicked her gesture and added their own. This continued until the last person in the circle was introduced.
There’s a common misconception that adults with disabilities cannot participate in drama activities due to their perceived limitations, but our individuals at Hi-Hope are capable of doing so many wonderful things. They proved that they can benefit from drama activities much like any theater person could. Casey led them through a series of different activities, including Word at a Time Story and Stage Picture where a group of individuals stood in the front of the room and told a story to the rest of the class with their own bodies in freeze frame with Casey narrating the way. The group came to life with each passing activity. It was amazing to see them engage and interact with Casey and one another. They were able to collaborate, work on their confidence and be present in the moment. The class finished the day presenting what they learned to staff and peers in an entertaining and interactive improv show in our Lifelong Learning Center.
Casey Whitaker is a seasoned stand-up, sketch comedy and improv performer based in Los Angeles, and the daughter of Hi-Hope’s Board of Directors Treasurer, Yvonne Whitaker. She has trained and toured with the prevalent Chicago improv comedy enterprise, Second City, known for its many famous alumnus. She has toured in Europe with her stand up and performed comedy for the prominent Norwegian cruise line. Casey is also a playwright and premiered her first full length play Lucky, Liar, Loser as part of the Artist in Residency Series at Saint Mary’s College. If you aren’t catching her on a stage, you can see her on TV in commercials.
I was blown away by Casey and how she interacted with our individuals. She was charismatic, flexible and made sure to meet each individual exactly where they were during the course of the day. Casey made sure to demonstrate to our individuals that there were no wrong answers or actions in improv. You work with your partner and you move forward. I think we all learned a valuable lesson through Casey and our individuals. The art of improv and the skills acquired can break down barriers and connect people in a multitude of ways inside and outside of the theater. We can’t wait to have Casey back at Hi-Hope for another class!