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New Mexico State University theater professor to teach improvisation workshop

New Mexico State University assistant theater professor Tom Smith will teach a two-week workshop on improvisation for students 12-18 years old starting July 14 with a final performance at 6 p.m. Friday, July 25, at the Hershel Zohn Theatre.

pants will be taught short-form improvisation, which is similar to the improvisational comedy used by groups such as ComedySportz, TheatreSports, The Groundlings and television's "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

Short form improvisation involves games with specific goals or obstacles, including "Without the Letter," in which actors must perform a scene without words that contain a specific letter, and "Scene in Verse," where an entire scene is performed in rhyming couplets. To ensure the material is improvised, games are based on audience suggestions.

"Improvisation is incredible actor training. It forces the actor to think on their feet, stay in the moment and focus on their fellow actor rather than their cue line," Smith said. "It also teaches the basics of performance, comedic timing and narrative storytelling."

Smith has performed improvisation for 16 years and has taught improvisation skills to more than 10,000 people from places like Walla Walla, Wash., and Dresden, Germany.

"I've taught as young as 3 and as old as 90," he said. "I've realized it doesn't matter who you are -- improvisation crosses gender, age and ethnic boundaries."

Smith said he plans to write a book about combining improvisation with traditional training for actors and he hopes to continue teaching improvisation around the world.

Smith first became involved in improvisation when attending a high school workshop put on by a group called Seattle TheatreSports. After that, he performed with Seattle TheatreSports, Walla Walla TheatreSports, the duo "George and Gracie" and in international matches. He was the founding artistic director of Walla Walla TheatreSports.

He has been teaching acting, directing and improvisation classes at New Mexico State since 1999. Some plays Smith has directed at the Hershel Zohn Theatre include "A Christmas Carol," "She Loves Me," "Peter Pan: An Awfully Big Adventure" and "Picasso at the Lapin Agile."

The workshop is the last of this summer's Children's Theatre Workshops at New Mexico State. The improvisation workshop will be held from 10 to 11:30 a.m. July 14-25, and the cost to attend is $125.

For more information or to make workshop reservations, call the Department of Theatre Arts at (505) 646-4517.