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Upstaging the script

Burbank High School students show off their improvisational skills during annual event to raise funds for trips.

January 31, 2009|By Tom Risen

The Burbank High School play production class lampooned high school life, pop culture and the general weirdness of their hometown Friday in their annual “Kids on Stage” fundraiser.

Entertaining nearly 200 people with their own writing and off-the-cuff improvisational daring-do, the young actors raised funds for their set expenses and theater trips in a Burbank High tradition. They will give an encore performance at 7 tonight at Burbank First Methodist Church, 700 N. Glenoaks Blvd.

“It’s been a tradition for a while, but we tweaked it into improv sketch comedy since I started teaching here in 2004,” teacher Brooks Gardner said. “The kids write these original comedy sketches every year. Some of the improv games they play with the audience are like something out of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway.’ We had a workshop where they wrote their scenes and then they auditioned them so we could decide what would go in the show.”

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One sketch was a version of “Jeopardy!” where the students do impersonations of their teachers as the guests and the audience — filled with their classmates — were in on the joke. Another sketch lampooned the trendiness of scarves, the obsession with Facebook photos, Starbucks and texting as students Samantha Johnson, Vicken Antounian and Maryam Tavakoli acted as jaded hipsters.

For the past three years the show has been getting coaching from Stephen James, drama teacher at James Muir Middle School. James is a professional improvisation actor who appears regularly at venues like Io West, Fanatic Salon and Second City Los Angeles.

“I go perform for inspiration and pass the ideas I get working in groups with the high school classes whenever they do a show like this,” James said. “I get the occasional writing job out of appearing at venues, but I’ve been teaching for 10 years, and I’m a teacher first.”

Some of the class has ambitions to professional acting, and since the studios aren’t far, Gardner accommodates their initiative. BreAnna Wittman will be appearing on CBS’ “The Unit,” Seycelle Gabrial played the younger incarnation of Eva Mendes’ character in “The Spirit,” and Matthew Timmons is a regular on the Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life on Deck.”

One of the major expenses that the fundraising will bankroll is the group’s trip to UC Berkeley, where they will compete in the Annual Nationwide Speech and Debate Tournament on Feb. 13, student Brandon Batham said.

“Everybody will basically be giving monologues in different categories,” Brandon said. “We spend a lot of time on our projects, and we get to know each other really well. It’s one of our fun trips.”


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