My Day at Camp: Laughing and listening at Jester’Z Improv

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improv, comedy, camp, summer, Arizona, kids
RAK’s Dani Horn and Aidan Chapman, 11, of Mesa, perform a scene at Jester’Z Improv camp.

As a new writer to , I didn’t know what to expect during my very first “My Day at Camp” experience.

After some serious decision-making — at Flip Dunk’s camp I could jump to my heart’s desire … but at School of Rock I could fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a rock star! — I decided to go for something even more out-of-the-box.

Jester’Z Improv Comedy’s summer camp fit the bill with its put-yourself-out-there boldness and spontaneous humor. Jester’Z is a family-friendly comedy theater that has been putting on live improv shows every weekend since 2001.

Jester’Z offers weeklong camp sessions for ages 8 to 17 at its Mesa studio. At the end of each week, attendees put on a performance for family and friends to showcase all they’ve learned.

Arriving during the tween group’s Improv Games, I was greeted by children laughing in the main stage area in front of a colorful harlequin-patterned wall.

A new game was just beginning. Improv instructor Annie Carson picked four students: Ryan Marriott and Miles LeSueur, both 10, and Dallin Branch, 14, would act out a film while 12-year-old Parker Marriott narrated a movie review with her — Siskel & Ebert style.

But first, they needed a good movie title.

Turning to the campers for suggestions, Carson opened a minor floodgate of word salad:

“Space Tacos!” yelled one. “Space Unicorns from the Grave!” shouted another.

“Chickens in Outer Space!”

“Turkeys Who Are in Love with Chickens!”

“Turkified Chickens!”

In spite of the popular poultry themes, “The War Between Potatoes and Carrots” won out.

improv, comedy, camp, summer, Arizona, kids
From left: Aidan Chapman, 11, of Mesa and Lucas Witcher, 10, of Gilbert, tango during an improv scene as Parker Marriott, 12, of Scottsdale and instructor Annie Carson react.

“So this was a really beautiful film,” Carson said to Parker, starting off the game. “It made me laugh, it made me cry …”

“Yeah, I really loved this film,” replied Parker. “Even though they’re not people, it’s just still so emotional.”

“That’s so true,” agreed Carson. “The next day I wasn’t sure if wanted to eat a carrot or hug it.”

After learning the names of the main characters — Bob the potato and Tom the carrot — the audience and I figured out the major theme of this cinematic drama was veggie rivalry. Ryan (Tom) stood up straight with his arms clamped down next to him like a long carrot as Miles (Bob) curled himself into a little ball like a spud.

The comedy quickly took a dark turn.

After all-out war amongst vegetables families, Bob the potato and Tom the carrot were both set to be executed for their crimes, but with a last-minute plot twist. The film ended happily as the Great Tomato (Dallin) appeared to restore balance and order.

“You guys should come together … in a blended drink,” Dallin said.

Wrapping the film up, Carson concluded, “That’s when they realized that if they came together, they could make an amazing beverage called V-8.”

After a big round of applause, the kids took a quick snack break.

No experience is necessary to enroll in camps and classes, but the Jester’Z staff does understand that most kids (and adults) who are considering an improv class may assume that “you have to be funny.”

improv, comedy, camp, summer, Arizona, kids
Aidan Chapman, 11, (left) and Dallin Branch, 14, both of Mesa, react to the death of their imaginary dog during their improv scene.

Instructors try to dispel this misconception by emphasizing that if you teach kids essential life skills, the “funny” will follow.

“People see improv and they get scared and they think, ‘Well I’m not funny.’ But the comedy actually happens as a result of the improv,” says former student coordinator Jessica Garvar. “The skills behind improv are just communication, emotional listening, teamwork.”

I thought about that before jumping into a game of “Freeze and Switch.” As I flew around like a superhero and pretended I was a skateboarder, I realized that on my first “My Day at Camp,” I was learning how to listen with more that just my ears.

That, and all the laughter, were great takeaways for anyone.

Editor’s note: This is the third article in our 2016 series of weekly stories from writers and staff members who spend a day at summer camp. More “My Day at Camp” stories.

Related: Still looking for summer camps? Here’s the ultimate guide.

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