by Grace Talusan
As a teacher of improvisation, Arlynn Polletta encourages her students to think on their feet. To adapt in the moment and to be ever-present to what's happening. Silliness and inhibition are championed.
"You can't be successful without improvisation," she says. "It's a hugely important skill." Improvisation helps make students more comfortable in their own skin. It isn't a matter of being funny or good, she adds; it's a learned ability. Through improv, students develop presence, readiness, and confidence, all skills that equip them to tackle the practice many fear only second to death: public speaking.
For Arlynn, the theater is also a place where students can build awareness about important issues of social justice. "A lot can happen on stage," she says.
Recently, a fight choreographer has been working with students on stage combat, teaching them how to safely stage fights without injuring themselves. And while this may not seem like the most transferrable skill, it teaches students the art of controlling and balancing their bodies while conveying the importance of connection. Participants learn to communicate with their partners and to pay close attention to all relevant actors in a given scene.
As a performer herself, Arlynn models what she teaches. Last year, she brought a group of Pingree students to "The Moth," a live storytelling event at Laugh Boston, and she told them to come prepared to tell a story in case their names were pulled at random from the voluntary lottery of potential speakers. Although she'd never done an event like this herself, she led by example and tossed her own name in the hat as well. Of course, her name was the only one from the group that was chosen. "I was terrified, but if I'm going to teach my students to do this, I have to model it," she says.
She was shocked and felt totally unprepared, but her training kicked in and she performed so well that the audience voted her the winner. The experience inspired her to sign on for future slams.
Being in the moment and authentic, Arlynn says, "is where all the good stuff happens."