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Improv not just for stage, actor tells workshop

Joey Caverly instructing the improv workshop at the Kent State University at Trumbull campus on Saturday. Tribune Chronicle / Beth Shiller

CHAMPION — Mixing deaf and hearing participants, an improvisational workshop was held Saturday at Kent State University at Trumbull that showed participants how improv techniques can be used in every-day life.

The workshop was hosted by KSU Trumbull’s Diversity in Action Council and taught by James “Joey” Caverly, a deaf actor who has worked on Broadway in “Children of a Lesser God” as well as off-Broadway in “Tribes.” He also has worked on TV’s “Chicago Med” and will be directing “Every Brilliant Thing” for the New York Deaf Theatre in April. He also will be coming back to Kent Trumbull in the fall to direct a play.

“KSU has been doing different deaf shows. I know of at least three performances with deaf actors and actresses — and Carol Robinson and I were talking for about two to three years — discussing me coming to direct. And I told her I’d like to come see the campus and meet the students and I’d provide a workshop,” Caverly said.

Robinson, an English professor, helped organize deaf theatre at Kent Trumbull. She has had a huge hand in bringing American Sign Language to the Kent Trumbull stage with Willy Conely’s “For Every Man, Woman, and Child,” a modern morality play inspired by “Everyman,” in 2009, and Iosif Schneiderman’s adaptation of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 2013. She also directed “Another Christmas Carol” in 2017, which is loosely based upon the Charles Dickens’ classic.

“We are the only university outside of Gallaudet (university) to offer deaf theatre,” Robinson said. “I think theater is a wonderful experience for everyone. This merges these populations (hearing and deaf) together to experience deaf culture.”

About two dozen people came out to learn from Caverly. There were six deaf participants, and the level of sign language varied from beginner to fluent for the hearing participants.

“This is a deaf-centered event. Not only are we developing our improv, we are developing deaf pride,” said Robinson.

Caverly used a lot games to teach the participants the importance of listening, watching, reacting and body language in improv.

“A lot of people think improv is not in everyday life, but we face situations everyday where we have to choose how we react. There are different ways to react, different ways to listen. Improv is a natural part of the everyday choices that we make in life. It’s a replication of daily life,” said Caverly. “And how do children learn? They learn through socialization and games.”

The workshop began with everyone getting used to the different levels of communication but as the day continued, the language barrier became less and less noticeable. The participants who knew sign language felt comfortable conversing fully in sign and the newer signers walked away knowing more than they did coming into the class.

“It’s always fascinating to me to see how hearing and deaf people interact. There’s always that level of tension when trying to figure how we work together, how this all works, but playing games helps break through that barrier. It makes things easier and more comfortable and that’s a huge benefit for both people involved,” said Caverly. “It’s not often that we have a chance for deaf and hearing actors to work together and KSU has history of doing this and are doing it more and more. It’s nice for KSU to continue this tradition.”

bshiller@tribtoday.com

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