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Improv at the Library!

Photograph of neon lettering spelling out the word "laugh" in orange in front of a dark brick background

The public library might not be the first place people think of when they hear the words ‘improv comedy’. However, in Henrico County, that is exactly where folks can go to learn more about improv, and even give it a try!  Improv programs have been happening at Libbie Mill Library since it opened in 2015, but recently, these programs have made the shift to an online environment. Until the end of the summer, middle and high school-age teens can join monthly virtual programs dedicated to easy improv gameplay with their peers.

While appearing merely fun on the surface, playing improv games is also a great opportunity to exercise a host of life skills, including listening, thinking, reacting, agreeing, collaborating, justification, pattern recognition, conversation, and teamwork. Improv players also get to exercise the most important skill in the game of improv: the art of saying “yes, and”. This mantra encourages participants to “say yes” and accept new scenarios and information while also actively adding new details and information to the scene or game. This skill translates easily to real-life situations where flexibility, openness, and attention to detail matter.

Want to see what upcoming virtual improv sessions are available for our younger patrons at Henrico County Public Library? Check the link here or put these dates on your calendar:

Improv for grades 5-8: 6/10, 8/12

Improv for grades 9-12: 5/6, 7/1

For our younger patrons, there are some excellent reads in which the protagonist participates in improv. Five Things About Ava Andrews by Margaret Dilloway is a children’s fiction book about an 11-year-old girl who deals with her anxiety by taking improv classes. Unscripted by Nicole Kronzer is a YA fiction read that focuses on a teen improviser who has her sights set on joining the cast of Saturday Night Live by 25 and the issues she faces when she goes to improv camp. In the eBook Crying Laughing by Lance Rubin, a teen comedian’s jokes gets her invited to join the school’s improv team, but things soon get complicated when her former-comedian dad is diagnosed with ALS. There are also non-fiction biographies available about comedy improvisers Tina Fey and Jordan Peele.

For teens and adults who would like to learn more about the art of improv and learn different tips on how to be a better improviser, recommended reads include Improvise: Scene from the Inside Out by Mick Napier, Improvisation for the Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques by Viola Spolin (the eBook version is also available on Hoopla), and How to Be the Greatest Improviser on Earth by Will Hines. For people who are interested in memoirs about noted improvisers and comedians, great ones include Bossypants by Tina Fey, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, and Robin by Dave Itzkoff (a biography about the legendary Robin Williams).

For those who are more into the acting side of improv, monologues can help practice skills that help on any stage or to prepare for an audition. Adults might enjoy Monologues from the Edge: Great Audition Pieces for Unconventional Actors by Steve Marsh, Hear Me Now: Audition Monologues for Actors of Colour by Titilola Dawudu, Black Heroes in Monologues by Gus Edwards, or The Ultimate Audition Series Volume 5: 222 More Comedy Monologues 2 Minutes & Under by Irene Ziegler Aston. Younger actors might check out Magnificent Monologues for Kids by Chambers Stevens, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, or Teen Boys' Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny by Alisha Gaddis.

For live improv performances, a series of audiobooks from Second City are available-- The Best of Second City (standalone), The Best of Second City, Vol. 1, The Best of Second City, Vol. 2, and The Best of Second City, Vol. 3 are all available through Overdrive. Alternatively, you can watch the entire series of Key & Peele, a sketch comedy show created by renowned improvisers Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Speaking of Keegan-Michael Key, you might also check out Don’t Think Twice, a fictional film that centers around an improv team and what happens when one of the members gets their big break. Comedy films also can benefit greatly from improvised lines and scenes.  You can view classic comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, This is Spinal Tap, and both the original Ghostbusters and the new Ghostbusters films.

These materials are available to all patrons of Henrico County Public Library. If you want to find even more information about improv, call your local branch or use the green Ask a Librarian tab (on the right side of the page) to get research help from library staff.

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