Odd Balls

David Bress portrays the worst pediatrician in the world during

GILROY
– Fifteen local teenagers take the stage this weekend in their
own live version of the popular TV show

Whose Line Is It Anyway?

GILROY – Fifteen local teenagers take the stage this weekend in their own live version of the popular TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

The Odd Balls, a comedy improv show, is part of Odyssey Theatre Company’s Summer Conservatory, and just like Drew Carey and his gang the students will entertain audiences with wacky skits created on the spot.

The program was created four years ago to give junior and high school students an opportunity to study theater at an advanced level.

“We wanted to offer a conservatory setting and a serious theater experience,” said Rhoda Bress, Odyssey Theatre Company board member. “The students don’t just learn about being on stage but about everything that goes into production from the business aspect to set design to costumes.”

During the six-week program, students meet Monday through Friday from 1 to 6 p.m. They first attend classes ranging from scene analysis to theater history, and then they rehearse and produce two main shows. After the Odd Balls, the program will conclude with Gore Vidal’s “Romulus,” a farce about the fall of the Roman empire.

“We want to bring something to the community that is more educational and not just entertainment,” Odd Balls Director Sarah Claspell said. “This year everything has been touched by students. For example, they designed their costumes for ‘Romulus’ and then passed those ideas on to the costumer.”

The students appreciate the opportunity to be so involved in the productions.

“You look forward to it because every day is a new experience,” said Isabelle Szucs, who has been in the program for four years.

During the first summer, improv was used as a warm-up activity, but since then it has become an integral part of the program.

“Not only does this group of leaders have a strong background in improv, it became a key element in developing these young actors,” Bress said. “Theater experts have always said that improv is a great learning tool. They learn skills in thinking on their feet and in developing character. It’s not just about getting up on stage and saying lines. And besides, it’s fun.”

Improv is a form of acting in which all of the dialogue and actions are made up on the spot. Half of the Odd Balls’ show is improv games and the rest is rehearsed comedy sketches. Claspell and “Romulus” director Amanda Sitko drew inspiration from the students when writing the sketches.

The staff is consistently amazed by the participants.

“Some of these kids are as good as people I’ve met in college,” Claspell said. “We’ve been blessed with some kids who are really talented in theater. It creates a different experience because they learn so much about a show and what goes into it.”

The Odd Balls performance is unique not only because of its spontaneity, but because of the role the audience plays.

“Audiences should be prepared to interact,” Claspell said. “Improv is not fully presentational. As the referee, I’ll ask the audience for suggestions. It’s always fun when their ideas are picked.”

The students hope for large audiences this weekend because they draw energy and inspiration from a loud crowd.

“It’s really good to support students like this, who are really serious theater students,” Rhoda Bress said. “The kids have put a lot into the productions. This is a good quality family activity, and everyone should come out to see the shows.”

The students are dedicated to the program, even staying after hours to help with the set, lights and publicity.

“My favorite part is the overall environment,” said Emelie Castillo, who has been involved for four years. “You’re not treated like a kid. You’re given the respect to do your part; you’re not just given a line. I return because we grow close, like a family. This not only happens because we are a small group, but also because people don’t pretend to be nice to you. The instructors aren’t just here because they’re getting paid.”

• The Odd Balls runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Gilroy High School Theater. Tickets cost $8 for adults and $5 for students. For more information or to reserve tickets, call Paul Alexander at (831) 915-7302. “Romulus” will be performed at 8 p.m. July 24, 25 and 26. • Odyssey Theatre Company is an affiliate of the Gilroy Unified School District Educational Foundation. For more information, visit its Web site at www.odysseytheatre.org.

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