While at State Thespian Conference, students learn new techniques, win improv comedy competition

Sally Cochran, Editor in Chief

Blue Valley students attended the Kansas State Thespians Conference (KSTC), or “Dramacon,” as theater students call it, on Thursday, Jan. 3 through Saturday, Jan. 5.
While at KSTC, BV’s improv team, Fifth Wall, won State in an improv competition.
Drama teacher Jeff Yarnell said that the State improv competition was formatted differently than previous years.
“I think this was the first time [Blue Valley won],” he said. “This was a new format — we have not done this format. This was a format that, Blue Valley High School, we proposed the change. In the past, what would happen was everyone would do one [improv] game, and the game you did was a suggestion. It was what you call a short form open scene which no one does anymore. So we were doing something that you would never do if you joined a comedy team at the high school or college level, if you’re doing community theater, you know, or anything like that. If you’re going to Chicago or L.A. or New York and doing improv, you’d never do what we were doing. We suggested we’d change to working from a game. There were 16 games you could play. You choose two of those games and play those. So under this format, there’s only been one winner, and that is us because it’s the first year.”
During the improv competition, teams picked two improv games. They played one in their room, and if they placed in the top five in their room, they moved on. They then competed with their other game in the other room. Scoring is done by three judges per room who are drama teachers from all around Kansas.
Fifth Wall’s first game was “Pan Left, Pan Right.”
“I directed the scenes,” junior Calum Fletcher said. “There were four different different scenes with suggestions from the audience. That was a pretty good round. I’m not going to say we were the best that game, but there were definitely some big laughs from [senior Cody Gadberry] and [sophomore] Jefferson [Harwood].”
After advancing to finals, Fifth Wall played “Radio.”
“[Senior Grayson Yockey] managed to win the crown with his ‘polka face,’” Fletcher said. “His theme was polka singing. [Senior Bri Woods] just won over the judges with her immaculate references to the 1920’s and incorporating that into the Spongebob theme, too. I had meat. I just made a bunch of meat puns, and it was glorious.”
While waiting for the results, Fletcher said the Fifth Wall team was calm.
“We were pretty chill,” he said. “We didn’t win last year, so we weren’t expecting anything. We thought we did well — we might have expected third place at least. We felt good about our performance, definitely.”
Fletcher said that Fifth Wall differs from other improv teams because they perform at a professional level.
“A lot of them, I think, had never even heard of a lot of the games that were introduced to us,” he said. “But there were definitely some laughs from the team that went first in ‘Radio.’ There was a [red]-haired guy who managed to win over the crowd with this one specific thing, a character he was doing. It was great. And then, a lot of scenes and story games managed to well as well, but you could see that there was some uncertainty in the other schools’ teams.”
“Dramacon” is made up of shows performed at night and sessions during the day where students learn about varying theater skills.
“Some of the things that I think are really great are you learn specific skills from people who are college professors at big state and private universities, and there are also people who are high school teachers who are specialists in a certain area,” Yarnell said. “So, you get things from them that you wouldn’t get on a regular basis, so I think that’s really helpful.”
Fletcher went to a hairdressing session during KSTC.
“I went to this one class on ‘Rolling to Victory’” he said. “It wasn’t anything that I thought it was. It was a hairdressing class. If you wanted to be a hairdresser, it was very informative like she went through all these curls like 1800’s hairstyle thing. I didn’t really get much from it cause I’m not that much of a hair person. Overall, I can say it was a pretty hairy situation.”
Yarnell said the KSTC provides an outlet for students to be exposed to new skills.
“For example, my area, one of my specialties, is improv, and so I taught three sessions of improv there,” he said. “I know a lot of the things that I taught were completely new concepts. Our kids were used to hearing those, but a lot of the kids, this was the first time they heard a lot of those concepts at all — and that’s just in one area. I know that’s happening in every area, and in saber combat, my kids are learning things I’ve never taught them because I’m not a saber combat specialist.”
Fletcher said sessions ranged in depth and topics.
“It was going to be a monologue class, but only six people turned up, so he went into some serious in-depth acting techniques. We learned a lot from that one.”
Fletcher said the most important thing he learned is that dedication is required to become a successful actor.
“If you want to be serious at what you achieve to be, you need to work for it,” he said. “It’s not just something you can pick up in like three years. It’s something you should be doing now. There was a writer’s workshop — we all regretted going to it — because it was just an hour and a half long inspirational speech on writing, but we learned to work to improve.”