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HANFORD — Does the Hanford Multicultural Theater Company host free, weekly improv classes? Yes. And they have fun doing it.

Wednesday night, a group of eight teens and adults worked with theater company artistic director Silvia Gonzalez on games to increase their skills in improvisational acting, including “yes, anding,” an improv staple. 

The “yes, and” game involves two actors whose every reply to each other must begin with, “yes, and” as a way to keep building the scene. It could be something like, “yes, and... now we're in a spaceship,” “yes, and... now we're blasting off,” except hopefully much more funny.

Improv acting, an art form popularized by TV shows like “Whose Line is it Anyway” and troupes like The Groundlings, focuses on making things up on the fly, often relying on the audience for jump-off points.

The Hanford MTC improv troupe regularly performs at the Hanford Farmer's Market downtown during its season and practices in the Civic Auditorium.

“We want to bring art back to downtown,” Gonzalez said. “Downtowns everywhere are in decline, but when you reintroduce art, they begin to come back. That’s the way I’ve seen it.”  

Every Wednesday, a children’s group practices from 5-6 p.m., followed by those 13 and up from 6-8:30 p.m.

Sisters Olivia and AllyBea Saltray were attending their second children’s’ class Wednesday night, playing games like gibberish theater, where actors must convey a story with fake words, and the distraction game, where actors must stay in character while others try to make them crack.

“It’s fun and you get to play games,” Olivia said. “We want to keep doing it.”

Their mother, Amanda, said the duo had been looking forward to class all week after having enjoyed their first time.

“They’ve been talking about it all week,” the mother said. “They got me excited about it. I’m going to try the adult class next week.”

Gonzalez is a playwright and actress who studied improv at Second City, the legendary Chicago-based comedy community that incubated such comedy stars as Tina Fey, Bill Murray, John Belushi and Jordan Peele.

She says that about 100 actors and actresses have come through the Multicultural Theater Company’s improv class since it started about two years ago.

“Because it’s free, you can come whenever you want,” she says. “People will come every week for months then take a while off, or they’ll get new jobs and not be able to come. But that’s part of what makes it fun. It’s always new people and it’s always different.”

During the “Yes, and” game, two actors respond to each other by starting off with “Yes. And…” the goal is to grow and expand the scene with bigger and bigger “ands” while also staying in the moment due to its reliance on the partner.

If an actor were to come on stage and say, “let’s go to the mall,” only to be replied to with a “no,” the scene would stop dead in its tracks. There’s nowhere to go from a negative. However, if the reply was, “Yes, and we can bring my high school principal” then you have a launching point for the rest of the scene. Yes, adding teaches the actors to keep going, no matter how weird things may get.

It’s skills that these that help teach the burgeoning actors and actresses how to stay on their toes with quick wits, both on stage and off.

The theater company recently announced that they will host a two-day monologue slam March 31 and April 1 in front of the Bastille in downtown Hanford. 

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