Imagine this: you’re on stage, in front of a large audience, when someone yells “haunted castle!” Now, you’re expected to act out a 20-30 minute scene based on that suggestion and other similar ones.
While this may sound daunting and scary for some of us, this is second nature to an improvisational (improv) performer like 4th year student Lacey Huculak, who is an active member and former co-president of the University of Alberta Improv Group (UIG).
Huculak admits to being “literally dragged” to her first UIG meeting by a good friend during her first year. However, the UIG and improv quickly become a major part of her life. In collaboration with Kevin Pinkoski (`13 BA Honours), she co-founded the Notorious UIG Festival, the U of A’s first and only student improv festival, in 2011. Inspired by the University of British Columbia’s Impulse Improv Festival, Huculak and Pinkoski wanted the UAlberta festival to be a showcase for their own performers to shine. “Our main goal was to submit something for our own community to enjoy,” says Huculak.
She remarks that the festival has shown remarkable growth since its inception; performers from the U of A, BC, Saskatchewan and Manitoba played to a packed-to-capacity Deweys at the recent 3rd festival in early 2014. “For me, it was such a beautiful moment to see that all these things we had worked towards and wanted had benefited and come to light. Even in September, after Clubs Fair, the amount of people who were there just to see what UIG was about has doubled from what we’ve had in previous years. The club is definitely on the rise in a positive way.”
“The best improv happens in the moment, when you’re out there, following your impulses and not thinking about yourself.”
While the ability to think quickly on your feet is important, Huculak says the number one valuable skill for an improv performer is teamwork. “All improv really amounts to is saying ‘yes and…?’ So acknowledging your partner’s idea and then adding onto it — you never want to block/diminish their idea,” says Huculak. “The best improv happens in the moment, when you’re out there, following your impulses and not thinking about yourself.”
Although people most likely associate improv with comedy, Huculak notes that improv is a great tool for social outreach and cultivating leadership skills. The UIG regularly holds workshops for youth camps such as Eurekamp, a summer day camp organized annually by the Faculty of Arts, and has worked with children with mental disabilities. “It gets everyone involved and you’re always ready to catch somebody if they’re about to fall,” says Huculak. Similarly, the Rapid Fire Theatre, where Huculak is a rookie performer, offers classes to at-risk youth at the Boyle Street Education Centre.
“I really believe that…you have to really engage in your community; your community is not going to engage with you. You have to find [engagement] in those special parts that interest you,” she adds.
Huculak stepped down as co-president of the UIG this past school year, taking time to engage with her other passion: history.
She is particularly interested in Canadian history, which she jokingly refers to as “the underdog of the discipline,” and she wants people to care about it, too. “Canadians have this view of Canadian history being dull because it’s not as militaristic as U.S. or English history. They don’t think of it as significant because it’s not as long,” suggests Huculak.
“I think it’s a very important thing to understand — where you live, where history came from.”
That’s why Huculak uses every opportunity to correct those misconceptions. The consummate improv performer, she even uses any available “prop” to illustrate her point. For example, Huculak works part-time at a cosmetic store and she is known to use the $10 bill, which features John A. McDonald, as a way to help tell customers about Canada’s first Prime Minister. Customers may come in for make-up, but Huculak ensures that they also leave with a history lesson. “I think it’s a very important thing to understand — where you live, where history came from,” says Huculak.
Whatever happens in the future, Huculak is confident that her improv talents have prepared her for any career possibility. “You’re choosing to voluntarily put yourself out there without any plan. I think that serves to allow you to step up more in a career where you don’t have the fear of failure. You just go and do your best, and if that doesn’t pan out, then at least you tried to make something happen.”
Story first appeared as a web banner story on the Faculty of Arts website (from March 2014-June 2014)
University of Alberta Improv Group
Department of History & Classics