The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo – Fernando’s Improv Podcast

Lots of insights and revelations in this episode. It’s a good one! Check it out!

The Improv Life Ep.9 with David Escobedo

Welcome to Episode 9 of the Improv Life Podcast 

Man, today I had a very special guest. Literally, one of my favorite people in the whole world – David Escobedo, global improviser. Also, this was my first international podcast as David is in England!

Me and David go a ways back since we were both producers for Spectacles Improv Engine, a now defunct theater in Orange County, CA, USA. David and I produced a show called Ladies and Gentlemen, and ever since then I’ve been in awe of the guy. 

David is simply amazing. David is on the front lines of the global improv movement. He’s connecting with improvisers from all over the world, connecting with them and collaborating with them, discovering new ways to play and work with another. 

His Facebook page, The Improv Boost, is one of the most active and visited Facebook pages for improvisers across the world. David is a community builder, and The Improv Boost is proof of that. 

In this podcast, we talk about his improv journey, his recent experiences in the UK Improv Scene, his most recent insights and revelations, and much more.

Listen on SoundCloud

Here’s What We Talked About

  • Why it’s nice to have your name pronounced correctly 
  • The Mexican Food in England and where the good spots are
  • David’s experience as a Mexican-American man from San Diego in England
  • How there is a lack of awareness of Mexican culture in England, and how this ignorance causes people in the UK to celebrate Mexican culture with the things they know about it, which unfortunately are stereotypes, and how David has to educate people about his culture
  • David’s journey to becoming a global improviser
  • How David walking away from a theater that did not give him back the love he was pouring into it may have been one of the best things he’s ever done
  • Why he started The Improv Boost, and that by starting The Improv Boost he has transcended whatever box or finite boundaries a singular improv theater may have wanted to confine him to
  • Powerful quote: “When they mean family, they mean kingdom.” – Me, reflecting on David’s idea of theaters weaponizing the idea of family to keep students in line. 
  • David’s experience in arriving to the England Improv Scene and how it was five years behind the American Scene in terms of some of the community standards of holding people accountable and dealing with toxic leaders and their “petty empires.” 
  • Powerful quote: “It’s so important for people to realize that their journey in improv is not as someone’s student, but as their own journey in improv.” – David talking about why it’s important for people to study with a lot of people and focus on their development as an improviser, not as a disciple of a specific teacher or identifying with a certain community 
  • David’s encounter with tribalism in the UK Improv Scene and how he combatted it 
  • How the sense of classicism is different in England and how that affects how improv teams and communities develop
  • David leading by example in England and showing other groups how they can work together to elevate each other
  • How the British Improv Scene is developing independent of influence from the American Scene
  • How the Keith Johnstone school of improv is more prevalent in England and how that’s influenced the style over there 
  • How David’s experience in England has opened up his eyes to new ways to doing improv 
  • Individuality vs. Dividuality = Western culture vs Eastern culture 
  • Dividuality – your actions affect a larger community 
  • “Status is expressed how we treat other people” – David Escobedo 
  • You can’t learn to be more creative; you’re just as creative as you are. But you can unlearn to be uncreative – David echoing Keith Johnstone 
  • How people seek gurus but how they should be their own leader 
  • Some of the turnoffs David experienced while studying at some of the big LA improv schools 
  • How David to learn improv on his own, and reflecting on how he could create space for others 
  • The pitfalls of teaching, coaching, and directing 
  • The kind of teachers you should avoid at all costs 
  • The relationship between skills and community, and how Gurus sell one more than the other but how you have to have both 
  • How the UK improv scene is beginning to have conversations about boundaries as being inspired by the Me Too movement that happened in the US and forced improv theaters to have conversations about sexual harassment and create policies to combat it and create safe and inclusive spaces
  • Key quote – “You can have vulnerability without having boundaries” – Brené Brown 
  • How England’s long history and tradition creates a conservative environment that makes it hard to have open and direct conversations about difficult topics like sexism and racism 
  • Key quote – “Allow yourself to suck at something new…in the risk is where the genius happens” – David Escobedo
  • How Americans have to have more humility about our improv and how we relate to the global improv scene 
  • David’s overall experience in the UK, how it is being an American in the UK and having to explain America’s politics to UK folk, and the next parts of his journey 

It was awesome having David on the show, and I can’t wait to see where his journey takes him. Thank you for being on the show, brother! 

Resources 

Here are some of the different Facebook pages David mentioned at the end of the show. Check them out! 

The Art of Yes – [From the Facebook Page] “Welcome to The Art of Yes! Our goal is to inspire others, share knowledge, and provide a forum for asking questions about improvisational theater (otherwise known as improv). All posts will be moderated, and we kindly ask you to refrain from advertising any shows or local events. We encourage you to invite friends, family, coworkers, basically anyone who is or may be interested in improv, to join the community. Hope you enjoy reading the Art of Yes as much as we enjoy creating it!” 

Today Improv – [From the Facebook Page] “Today Improv is a Los Angeles based company teaching improv for actors, improv for business and improv for everyone else. Change your life”

Improv MKE [From their website] – “What if you opened an improv theater and school that brought teachers from all over the country and the world who can teach others some of the things you’ve learned over the years and continue to learn yourself? That’s what Improv MKE LLC is all about! The organization is designed to create access, both in-person and online, for people to have fun, learn, grow, and play together in ways they never thought possible! Thanks for coming by. We hope you stay to play with us. YES AND, we also do corporate stuff! Entertainment, workshops, and custom-created programs and training are available! We do it ALL!! Mainly because Michelle is no longer a baby, and has a team.”

The Black Improv Alliance – [From the Facebook Page] “The Black Improv Alliance provides a space for improvisers of African descent to build worlds and tell their authentic stories unapologetically! We are committed to dismantling white supremacy in improv, one scene at a time.”

Thank You for Listening

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The Improv Life Ep.2 – Liam O’Mahoney, Fernando’s Improv Blog Podcast

I always love talking to Liam O’Mahoney.

Welcome to the 2nd episode ever of Fernando’s Improv Blog Podcast – The Improv Life! 

Today I talked to none other than Liam O’Mahoney! 

Liam is literally one of my favorite people in the whole world. There’s nobody I’ve probably done more improv scenes with in my whole life because of our time on Big Selfie together. 

Him and I share a crazy synchronized group mind. There was a moment in the interview where Liam was speaking, and I literally thought of the next word out of his mouth – and I was right! And I told him, “That was the same word I was thinking!” 

You don’t meet someone like Liam O’Mahoney every day. Dude is funny, kind, accepting, and creative. I’m very lucky to call him a friend, a person I’ve had a million good times with on stage, off stage, hanging out in the parking lot before a shot, and just in life. Love you Liam! 

You can listen to the latest episode down below!

Here’s What Liam and I Talked About: 

  • Our first meeting ever and how we heard about each other before actually meeting.
  • Liam’s early days at the Improv Collective and joining the community through Binh Ngyuen’s Improv Class at Orange Coast College.
  • How Liam and I have a crazy group mind because of our time together on Big Selfie.
  • How Liam was able to say “Yes” to what he wanted to do with his life.
  • How that choice has brought him many friendships.
  • Liam and I reminisce about all the crazy experimental shows we did back in the day and how it made us into better artists.
  • How I intentionally planted the seed of “Game” in Liam’s mind when I coached him and Keefer Langer for their two-man Harold team. 
  • His journey to dreaming of being an actor, denying that desire, and finally embracing his artistic destiny by choosing himself. 
  • How the Improv Collective embraced him and nurtured him in the early days of his improv journey. 
  • Liam talks about studying at UCB LA and how different it felt from the Improv Collective. 
  • Liam reveals how deep he got into the LA improv world with his various practice groups and indy teams. 
  • How this is the first time ever Liam has not done improv because of the crazy times we’re living in. 
  • Overall, check out this podcast to see two friends with a lot of history and a love talk about their journeys. 

Links 

Help Save Us, Improv Collective – the amazing theater where Liam and I cut our teeth at and formed our friendship needs your help. The Improv Collective has set up a Patreon to raise money to keep the theater alive. If you could sign up and donate, I would really appreciate it. 

The Improv Collective Facebook Page – Stay up-to-date on all things Improv Collective. 

The Big Selfie Facebook Page –  Follow the Big Selfie FB page to find out when we’re coming back! I don’t know when, but you don’t want to miss the announcement! 

Here are some blog posts where I talk about Liam and Big Selfie 

The Fernando Show – A Retrospective On Taking Risks and Failing Big – The one man show where Liam was my sidekick and everything that went wrong. 

The Improv Life: What I Learned About Owning Your Characters – I mention one of the last great amazing scenes and I did before the quarantine hit. 

Hardeen Profiles: Meet Liam O’Mahoney – A bizarre profile I wrote about Liam to promo one of our many failed Hardeen sketch shows. 

The Improv Life: Do It Together – A journal entry of when my Defenders like super team did a set at Idiot Dome. 

The Improv Life: The Importance of Side Projects, Or Some More History of How Big Selfie Came Together a little bit of background of how my Armando team, Big Selfie, came together. 

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A Poem For Orange County Improv

A Poem For Orange County Improv

Look man
We taught ourselves improv
In people’s living rooms
And coffee shops
And at as many shows
As we could possibly have

I mean as many shows as possible
In front of great fans
Half who were your peers
Friends and family
And half real fans
Born from someone else’s
Friends and family
And more peers

Nobody was better
Than anybody else
Except for the perception
You had in your mind
Which told you
You were better than everybody else
Because you were insecure
Or that you sucked
Because you were insecure

But we were all geniuses
And we all sucked
Just depended on the night
But we were all watching
Hoping for the best

It was all of us
Behind the Orange Curtain
Doing it for fun
For community
Because it made us feel alive
And because it gave our life: purpose

If you’re looking for purpose
That’s what you need
Fun + Community
+ Making you feel alive

And we had that
And you lived for
Your once a week practice
Your once a month show
And all the other shows
Where you would hug everyone
You know and you called them: brother

Like pro-wrestlers
Because we were brothers
Because we prioritized
This art from and our community
Over own families
And other communities
And the love we gave each other
Was the love you give family
So it became a family by choice

And yeah man
There was bullshit
Petty petty petty grudges
And cliques that made people
Feel alienated
Fake friends and shit talking
Favoritism and discrimination
Problems all communities face
Regardless of size

But man it was different
Because we had to
Teach each other basically
I mean like literally educate each other
About everything
Build civilization from scratch
With trial and error
As our brick and mortar

And yeah, LA was just next door
But what we had down here
Was special
Not because it was local
Okay because it was local
But because all these amazing people
Came together
To do something they love
And from that love
A community was born
And what is a community born in love
Home

Thank you
for making me
The man I am
Orange County Improv

161.20 #poem #improv #sketch #ocimprov #specsimprov #improvcollective #man #growth #community #family #home #artist #comedy #goodtimes

PC: Jas Sams

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How to Edit: Long Form Basics Pt.1 — Notes from the 04/12/19 Specs Friday Drop-In

I love what I do and I love doing it.

How To Edit by Fernando A. Funes

As a teacher, I want to teach what I know.

So what do I know best? Long Form!

I’ve done what seems like hundreds of long form sets know from all the shows, jams, and practices.

I then realized that one of the most overlooked, taken for granted, and underappreciated skills is editing –how to edit, knowing when to edit, and why you should edit.

I then thought to myself, “I have to teach this! So I did!” The following is my thoughts on editing and some of the stuff I taught in my Friday 04/12/19 class.

What is editing?

Editing is ending a scene, or it is transitioning to a new scene.

How do we edit?

Stand back and watch a scene. Give it your full attention.

Ask yourself if the scene needs anything. If it does, go in and add it.

Maybe it needs someone to add background information like adding a location. I’ve been a waiter a million times dropping off water for two people sitting across from each other. Just depends on the situation.

If it doesn’t, watch the scene and let it breathe. Sometimes a good scene doesn’t need anything but space. Watch the scene and stay focused.

Once the scene has reached a high point — a conclusion, a laugh, a funny thing that wraps everything up — edit the scene.

When do you edit a scene?

Look for a button.

A button is a way to end a scene that provides closure for the scene and ends the scene on a high note.

A button could be a big laugh. For example, someone in the scene said something that got a huge laugh because it built upon a bunch of things that were established previously in the scene

A button, more often than not, is just a big laugh line that seems like a good place to end a scene.

Why do you edit?

You want your scenes to end on high notes because that keeps the audience wanting more and it keeps them watching.

If you let scenes drag on for too long –not editing scenes that should’ve been edited earlier — you may lose the audience. And if you lose the audience, your show’s energy will dip, and you will feel it on stage.

Once you lose an audience, or you feel an energy shift because you noticed they are not reacting the way you want them to or expect to, it’s hard to get them back.

Therefore, you always want to edit their scenes at their highest point as to keep the audience happy and keep the energy high.

If you can do that, you’re likelihood of having a good show increases, and if you have a good show, you’ll increase the chances of that same audience coming back to see you again and becoming loyal fans.

I get it, but how do I actually physically edit a scene?

There are a million ways to edit.

Editing techniques will vary by market, region, and school, and ultimately, it’s about finding what works for you and your groups, or what is the uniform practice of your improv community.
Here are two of the most common!

The Swipe — someone runs across the stage during a scene as if sweeping a dry erase board. The scene is ended and a new one can begin.

The Tag — Two people are in a scene, person A and person B. One person from the backline, person C, taps Person A on the shoulder because they want to do a brand new scene with Person B. Person C then takes Person A’s place to do a brand new scene with Person B. Person B remains the same character.

The most common long form format, the Montage, is composed solely of Swipes and Tags, and a lot of other long form formats utilize these techniques as well.

What did you teach?

We started off by doing two person scenes and me calling scenes and then discussing why I called a scene.

We talked out why a certain moment felt like an ending, and what were the elements we could list off that gave it that feeling.

We did this multiple times so that people started becoming aware of how much attention they have to pay during a scene. I still called the scenes, but I asked individual students their thoughts on why I called a scene.

All the answers were in the vein that it felt like a right moment to do it. For example, a scene had a huge laugh on a line that seemed to wrap everything up was a common answer.

Explaining a button isn’t always easy, but recognizing a button and calling a scene isn’t as hard.

It’s like you know a button when you see it, and that’s a good starting point.

What did you do after talking about scene buttons?

Okay, since I was working with players of various experience levels, some having had training and some being new to the art form, I wanted to use an easy long form that was user friendly. Therefore, I taught them the Usual Suspects format.

The Usual Suspects format is a long form developed by Spectacles Improv Engine, and that is currently performed by Pictures of Spaghetti, one of the best long form teams in Orange County.

*Full Disclosure: I’m a big fan of Pictures of Spaghetti, and I believe everyone should go watch them. Here’s a blog post about them I wrote way back. Check it out! => https://fernandosimprovblog.wordpress.com/2016/12/29/the-improv-life-scene-edits-or-why-pictures-of-spaghetti-rocks/

Players line up in a backline in an A-B-C-D-E-F order.

Player A and Player B come down from the backline and ask the audience for a suggestion.

They then do a scene.

Whenever it’s reached a high point or big laugh, someone from the backline claps to signal the end of the scene and goes back to the audience for another suggestion for a brand new scene.

They use the following prompt: “That scene was about horses. What else reminds you of horses?”

They get a suggestion from the audience for a new scene between Player B and Player C.

The process repeats itself until every pairing has gone down the line or the allotted show time expires.

The scenes are not related although they can be. That’s up to the players whether or not they want to make a call back.

Players have the liberty to tag into scenes and explore those universes if they wish. Tags allow for players in the backline to explore interesting scene ideas or characters they want to play with, and are overall encouraged if there is something to be played with in a scene.

Scenes can be long. Scenes can be short. It just depends on the backline and their instincts to edit.

Why did you teach this form?

What I’ve always liked about the Usual Suspects format is its focus on editing.

The clap is such a conclusive way to end a scene that there is no ambiguity in this edit.

Edits have to be clear and final. Ambiguity makes for awkward edits, and awkward edits make for awkward shows, so watch out for it.

Essentially, the clap is functioning as a swipe.

Also, this format puts pressure on the backline to watch scenes, observe them at a deeper level, and be hyper vigilant about when to edit.

To have success in this form, you cannot be afraid to edit, nor can you push that responsibility to another teammate who you feel is better at it. What if they are in a scene? Who is going to edit them? You will become a fearless editor, and that will help you out in all areas of your improv journey.

Amongst its many joys and skill builders, the Usual Suspects format will teach you how to edit.

So what happened next after you taught them the Usual Suspects format?

They edited their own scenes! Scenes were shorter than average, but that is because people were hyper vigilant about ending scenes on a high note.

Also, since students couldn’t count on me to call scene for them, they had to be their to have their fellow students’ backs and edit scenes at high points and keep the energy up.

Afterwards, I asked the students how they felt, and one thing that stuck out to me was the need to observe scenes on a deeper level and be ready to call scene at the perfect moment.

How did that make you feel?

Amazing! I felt like the lesson I was trying to teach was communicated clearly and effectively.

Editing isn’t something I was taught in a lot of my improv classes because it’s assumed that you already knew how.

However, if you’re going to drive a car, you have to know how the different gears in the transmission work. You have to know how to accelerate, break, and change lanes.

You have to be aware at all times of your vehicle and your experience in the vehicle. To be oblivious of those things is dangerous.

The same goes for a long form set.

You have to be aware at all times of what is going on.

You have to be able to adapt and respond at a moment’s notice depending on what your team may need from you or how the energy of the audience is affecting your set.

It’s a hypervigilance that rewards you with amazing stage moments when you submit your full attention to the set, but it punishes you if you’re distracted or not giving it your full care and concern.

Damn, this is a lot to take in! What next?

Come to my drop-ins! Come study with me! Come study with Matt Thomas on Sundays from 11am to 1pm! Basically, go do improv and learn this for yourself!

Improv is fun! That’s why I do it! If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be here!

Yes, there are technical things you have to know to succeed in it — like any art form — but once you master those technical things, your improv abilities will sky rocket and you’ll be doing things you never imaged.

Yes, editing may seem like a given for a lot of people, but it’s a skill that needs to be developed by everyone if they want to be an amazing improviser.

So please go out there and do some improv.

Love,

Fernando A. Funes.

Spectacles Improv Engine host drop-in Improv Classes every Friday from 12pm to 2pm and every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at STAGES Theater in Fullerton. Classes are $10, and every class is different from the other. Check it out!

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Baseball & Improv, Or How A Good Two Person Scene Is A Game of Catch: My Notes from The March 29th 2019 Specs Friday Drop-In

I love it all: teaching, performing, writing, and more. Picture by Jasper Sams.

These are my notes from the Friday March 29th Drop-In on Building a Scene One Line at a Time. Enjoy!

By Fernando A. Funes

One of My Big Improv Turn Offs

I think one of my biggest turn offs in improv is when a player comes in with an agenda.

An agenda is an idea for the direction they want the scene to go in

The consequence of that is that a person comes into a scene ready to force their idea onto others.

Because they’re locked and loaded with their idea of what the scene should be, they are closed off to their partners and minimize the contributions their scene partners can make.

I don’t know what you would call this type of person because we’re all guilty of it.

If you’re a veteran, maybe this could be called directing the scene because you think you know better and the person should just follow your lead.

If you’re a newer person, maybe this could be called channeling a scene because you’re directing the course of the scene to a destination only you can see.

Regardless of what we call it, it’s a problem. So my Friday March 29th Drop-In Class was geared towards solving that problem!

Improv Is A Game of Catch

If you ever got a pair of baseball gloves and just threw the ball around for a bit with a friend, you know how it is to play a game of catch.

The ball is thrown. You track it’s speed and trajectory with your eyes.

You set your mitt up to be where you think the ball will land. You receive the ball in your mit.

And then, depending on the energy behind the pitch — a soft casual throw or a hard ball aimed straight to your chest — you respond in kind with your own throw.

Once you’ve had a few back-and-forths with your partner, you can intuit what kind of relationship you have in that moment with that person.

The same goes for a good two person scene.

You throw one thing around back and forth, focusing on that thing alone, and depending on the energy of that interaction, you can probably intuit how these two people feel about each other in that moment.

If you do that consistently, chances are you’ll have a good scene.

Well that sounds good and all, but how do I actually do that?

Just say one thing at a time in a scene.

Let your partner receive the piece of information, be affected by it, and respond.

Repeat that process and see what kind of relationship you develop. Be patient with it and have fun. Just like playing catch!

Whey you say multiple things at once, or speak in paragraphs, your scene partner may not know what to respond to and may get lost. Or at the very least, they may get overwhelmed with the buffet of options to choose from.

Back to the playing catch analogy: in catch, if you got multiple baseballs thrown at you at once, you wouldn’t know which one to focus on, and you would probably duck and cover to avoid getting hit by one. In general, it’s easier to catch one ball than dodge 12.

Hmmm. I feel like I’ve heard this before?

You have!

At multiple Specs drop-in classes in the past they have preached the principle of “Bring a brick,” an old Del Close quote about how to build a scene.

Basically, to create an amazing, collaborative scene where both partners are equal contributors, let each person speak one at a time, and build the scene one line at a time.

If you stick to this process, at the end you will have a cathedral that neither of you could have built on their own.

Cool! So how do you actually do this?

For the drop-in we did one line scenes where each person could only say one line at a time.

You would say a line, your scene partner would receive it, be affected by it, and respond according to whatever that line stimulated. And the process would be repeated until I called scene.

How did it work out?

Not as planned! Speaking one line at a time is not a natural thing to do.

Without me on the side capping players’ sentences, players had hard time self-regulating. They spoke more than one line at a time, and scene partners were often not sure which line to focus on or explore.

Although I side coached to enforce the principle of the exercise, too much side coaching can get disruptive and take a person out of a scene. And that happened actually.

Honestly, I hadn’t prepared for the impact of this limitation.

So what did you do?

I decided then and there that the best solution was just for me to do the one line scenes with students and enforce the one line rule by adhering to it myself.

I had to demonstrate it basically.

Why did you do that?

The concept was not coming off across because there hadn’t been a good example to follow at the beginning of the exercise.

The principle and lesson of the exercise — building collaborative scenes one line at a time — was important to me as a teacher, so I did what I had to do to communicate this concept to my students.

What was the end result?

Amazing Scenes!!!!

All the scenes were just the students and I going back and forth one line at a time, not forcing a direction on the scene, and just seeing where each line took us in terms of character development, informing us about our relationship, or details about the world we lived in.

It was a lot of fun! I promise you every scene was something I nor my scene partner could have ever dreamed up in our heads.

I think it was the combination of playing with an authority figure and of me adhering to the principle of only one line at a time, thereby being an example for the students to follow.

By being an example, the students watching from the audience now knew what I expected from them and how to execute the exercise. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made as a teacher.

Was it necessary to do that?

In the moment, it felt like I had to do that. And I’m glad I did!

Back to another baseball analogy.

If a hitter is working on their baseball bat swing and something is wrong with it, you don’t let them continue practicing their wrong swing and develop bad form.

You stop them, and you show them where they have to work on their swing. If you correct their swing, you increase their likelihood of hitting the ball and getting on base.

*I got this analogy from when UCB Improvisers Mark David Christenson and Jonny Svarzbein were guests on the Pack Podcast with Miles Stroth. You can listen to it here => https://www.packtheater.com/tpt-podcast/

For improv, like in baseball, we want to develop good form — listening, being affected, being in response — because good form will increase the likelihood of good scenes and good shows. And who doesn’t’ want that? But it all begins with good form.

Is the only way to do good scenes?

No! It’s not!

Again, like everything I’ve taught before, there is no one way to do good improv.

Improv is subjective.

Good improv scenes are a matter of taste and preference. Also, your local improv scene and community will dictate what a good improv scene is. Basically, when in Rome do as the Romans.

On top of that, most improv scenes are not in this fashion. They are much faster with more lines spliced in between. The goal of this exercise was to get people to learn how to listen and respond in the moment from the person across from them, to learn to not force their ideas on the scene.

This is just one method I’ve learned the past few years at tons of Specs drop-in classes I’ve taken over the years with Josh Nicols, Joey Shope, Sam Forbes, and Matt Thomas.

Side question: what’s up with all the baseball metaphors?

Baseball makes sense to me and I recently saw a documentary on the life of Ted Williams on Netflix, the greatest hitter to ever live. You should check it out!

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you at a Specs Drop-In Class in the future!

Fernando A. Funes

Spectacles Improv Engine host drop-in Improv Classes every Friday from 12pm to 2pm and every Sunday from 11am to 1pm at STAGES Theater in Fullerton. Classes are $10, and every class is different from the other. Check it out!

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