I’ve been privy to know about Chris Bell’s performance projects through a shared Master’s program experience in England. Upon returning to the US, I enjoyed learning about Chris’ recent work with the Minnesota Life College. He started and is currently facilitating The Community Living Program (CLP) Improv Club. The performance club is hosting a performance-based lecture June 19 at 6:15pm in the Minnesota Life College courtyard. I’ve asked Chris to take a couple of minutes to talk about his experience with the improvisation club.
-What do you do for the Minnesota Life College?
I am the out-going Program Assistant for the Community Life Program (CLP). The CLP works with alumni of the Minnesota Life College, a non-profit that provides an invaluable college experience for young adults on the autism spectrum. My main job function as the Program Assistant was to provide access to enriching community activities, both on- and off- campus.
-Why did you start a performance class?
The idea of starting a performance class first came up during my initial interview. However, it wasn’t until I started having conversations with the members that I realized how much of a demand there was for a performance-based club. From this demand, I founded the CLP Improv Club to meet once a week.
-What has been the most rewarding experience?
The most rewarding part of the experience has been watching the members develop as leaders. I took a weekend vacation in late March, and while I was away the members conducted a peer-led CLP Improv Cub. I thrive off of the moment when the student develops the confidence to make their own way.
-What has been the most challenging experience?
The most challenging part of the experience has been renegotiating my relationship with a more traditional aesthetic framework. A standard way to teach improv is to focus on keeping the actions/reactions fast and to avoid dwelling on the next move you’re going to make in the process of building a dramatic sequence. This mantra of don’t over-think and keep it fast is challenged when you’re working with individuals on the autism spectrum, but challenged in the best possible way because it redefines improvs traditional relationship to duration.
-What type of preparation goes into your classes?
At first, every class was very different. I was trying an assortment of physical/vocal warm-ups and improv games to see what was most beneficial for the group. Following two months of experimenting with approaches to the classes, I found it to be the most beneficial when I would worry less about what I was going to do and focusing more on asking the members, “What do you want to lead today?”
-Do you find that the more you lead classes the less you prepare?
Actually, I found it to be the other way around. I found myself preparing more when I was the one leading the class. Since I’ve moved to peer-led approach to the class, I’ve spent less time preparing.
-What are you up to in the coming months? Any projects?
I’ll be concluding my time at the Minnesota Life College with a performance-based lecture focusing on the similarities between co-existing within an improv classroom and within in a community. In early July I’ll be leaving Minnesota for a five month International Artist Residency with Studio Porte Bleue in Montreal, Canada. I’ll be working with performance practitioner/researcher Colin Lalonde in the development of three projects, each engaging, in different ways, with reconfiguring the traditional audience experience.