Discovery Improv workshop teaches theatrical therapy

Discovery Improv workshop teaches theatrical therapy

Lovey Cooper

Students in the expressive arts therapy program held a Discovery Improv workshop Saturday as part of their honor society’s workshop and lecture series.

Visiting comedian Abby Karp lead workshop participants in improvisational games and scenes as an example of how to explore inner feelings and experiences in a new, creative way.

“There’s a lot of similarities between counseling and comedy improv,” said Katie Brown, the workshop’s organizer and current graduate student in Appalachian State University’s Clinical Mental Health and Counseling program. “There’s a lot of opportunities when you have to think on your feet and change direction because something gets in front of you that you didn’t expect, a lot of affirmation and adding on.”

Brown said she first met Karp at UNC Greensboro where she worked for 14 years before returning to graduate school at Appalachian. In her time there, the two set up a six-week improvisation class as one of few opportunities in Greensboro to practice comedy.

After joining the expressive arts therapy program here, which began as a formal discipline in the 1980s, Brown noticed a gap in the resources provided in terms of drama and acting and brought Karp here to apply her experience in comedy to therapy.

“Through expressive arts therapy, the counselor provides a space and materials for the client to create art, perhaps even several artworks in one session, such as molding clay, painting, movement, dance and creative writing – as well as talking – about what they created, about their process and about the concerns that brought them to counseling,” said Julie Murphy, a current graduate student in the expressive arts therapy program.

Improv, an interactive and reactive form of communication, fits within the goals of self-exploration and external reflection of inner thoughts and feelings, Karp said.

“When I’m talking to people interested in group dynamics, I’m trying to get at what happens if someone in the group isn’t focused – can you accept something from someone if they aren’t engaged,” she said.
Karp said she sees these workshops have the potential for participants to learn about their reactions to real-life situations in a controlled environment, as well as explore their own roles and relationships.

Karp’s experience comes from comedy but also psychodrama and playback theatre, which are other improv techniques that employ self-presentation aspects of psychology for emotional effect. While Discovery Improv was her first workshop of this sort, Karp said she sees work like this as a great contribution to the field. Participants in Saturday’s workshop ranged from undergraduate and graduate students to local therapists in the area.

“She told us straight off that improv doesn’t have to be funny, though it sometimes is,” said Jessica Hudgens, a graduate student in the program. “The idea of releasing expectations is one that is going to go with me.”

The workshop was free of charge and offered continuing education credits to those interested.

“After any improv workshop, you want to hear that people had fun and that they took risks without feeling embarrassed and that they enjoyed the creativity,” Karp said. “I hope that people got to expand their repertoire of who they can be.”

Story: Lovey Cooper, Senior A&E Reporter