Improv comedy returns to Wilton High School

Following last year’s success, three nights of Chicago-style, family-friendly improvisational comedy returns to the Wilton High School Little Theater stage, beginning Thursday, Feb. 5.
Directed by Second City Conservatory alumna and English and theater arts teacher Heather DeLude, “Freeplay: A Night of Improv Comedy” — also called “Saturday Night Live” — features spontaneous scenes and games performed by freshmen, sophomores and juniors.
Ms. DeLude worked at Chicago’s Second City Conservatory in the late 90s alongside comedians like Jason Sudeikis, Tina Fey and Rachel Dratch.
“Being there in the late 90s was a really great time to be there,” said Ms DeLude. “I didn’t realize how many people I was meeting and how they would end up shaping comedy.”

Last year

Freeplay started after Ms. DeLude was approached by a group of about 10 students who were interested in her professional improvisation background and formed a club.
Ms. DeLude said that “a lot of people didn’t really flock” to the club, but she taught the group sophisticated improvisational skills she had learned at the Second City Conservatory.
With improv, no two performances are the same because each show is guided by audience participation. Members of the audience help propel scenes forward by providing suggestions, which essentially create each show.
Thirty or more students auditioned for last year’s performances, said Ms. DeLude, and “all were cast in either the Mainstage — the main group — or understudy roles,” said Ms. DeLude, adding the students showed much dedication during rehearsals.

“I had essentially taken them as far as I could in rehearsal without a live audience, and I was so proud of them,” she said.
“They were absolutely ready for an audience, and I can assure you tears of joy were shed in the lighting booth as they took their bows.”
Last year’s performances attracted more students to participate this year, continued Ms. DeLude, who said students have told her improv  “seems like so much fun” and expressed interest in participating this year.
“After the rehearsal process began, new cast members have also remarked to me that they had no idea — as audience members — how hard it was to make improv appear so easy,” she said.

This year

More than 60 cast members, technicians and musicians began rehearsing after Thanksgiving break for this year’s performances.
“It takes many hours for the improvisation to appear as polished as it does opening night,” Ms. DeLude said.
This year’s Freeplay will include favorite scenes and games from last year as well as many newly added items to the comedy set.
“In addition, we added a matinee show on Saturday, which will be all ages, family-friendly in design and include a talk-back with the improvisers afterward. Our hope is to spread the enthusiasm for improvisation to middle and elementary school students,” said Ms. DeLude.
“We will have a live student jazz band — à la The Late Show or Saturday Night Live, and the student band even wrote an original theme song for Freeplay to open the show.”

Ms. DeLude said sharing her passion for improvisation with her students has been “an amazing opportunity.”
“Yet, let me be clear, they give back to me as much as I give to them,” she said. “The lessons we have all learned through improvisation — as an ensemble, as a family, as  people — through our journey in this show have far extended past the boundaries of the classroom or stage.”
Freeplay: A Night of Improv Comedy will take place Thursday, Feb. 5, at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Feb. 6, at 8 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 7, at 4 and 8 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for students and $12 for adults, and may be purchased during the high school’s lunch periods, as well as at the door prior to the shows.
For more information, call 203-834-4844.