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The Best at Improv

Westfield Theater Sports wins third consecutive championship.

When it comes to theater, the words "Westfield" and "success" are pretty much synonymous. The high school's only been around for three years, and it's just won its third consecutive Fairfax County Theater Sports championship.

Competing against six other schools, Jan. 10, at Robinson Secondary School, the six-member Westfield team came home with the trophy. Megan Henry, Jon Lawlor, Jesse Leahy, Reaves McElveen, Derek Rommel and Josh Stickles participated in comical, improvisation challenges testing their creativity and ability to think on their feet.

Each team was given six, different scenarios to act out, with audience members suggesting the variables — such as particular characteristics of guests in a scene called "Party Quirks." And McElveen demonstrated a real knack at portraying inanimate objects.

"It's fun because it's so spontaneous," said Lawlor, a junior. "You have no idea what you're getting." And even though Westfield had won the event before, he said, the young thespians were "certainly ecstatic" to do it again.

Classmate Rommel's favorite challenge was called "TV Guide," where students acted out descriptions advertising upcoming TV programs. "Ours was about a time traveler who landed on the Titanic," he said. "Reeves played the iceberg and the boat — it was very funny."

Rommel said the team was a great ensemble with terrific timing. "We worked really well together," he said. "I was happy because it was our third straight win, and it makes me feel really proud because we're [Westfeld] making a name for ourselves."

Senior Leahy also liked the Titanic scenario best. "We all had a good idea, and the scene just came together," he said. "I was Celine Dion singing the theme song from 'Titanic.'"

He said the toughest part of the competition was having to "really think quickly, find out what the others are doing and act it out fast, so it doesn't get dull." What gave Leahy the most satisfaction was "seeing the audience's reaction and seeing them enjoy our improvisation."

McElveen, a junior, also had a ball. So just how does one play an iceberg? "When they called out, 'Iceberg, straight ahead,' I just floated across the floor and crashed into their imaginary ship," he explained. McElveen got to further display his acting versatility by playing a fork in a scenario called "Questions."

"You could only talk in questions," he said. "Derek was going to eat some pasta, and one of our variables [from the audience] was a fork. I went on my knees and put three fingers behind my head. Then Derek picked me up and did a fork-like, swooping motion. It's easy, because you don't have to say anything; it's all facial expressions and movements, and our theater department is really good at that."

Classmate Henry was in "Party Quirks," portraying someone who'd been on the TV show, "American Idol," and performed badly. "It was a fun scene, and it went really smoothly," she said. "We had a good time [in the competition] and were happy to win. We have faith in our team and we're pretty close-knit."

Westfield drama director Scott Pafumi said his actors know each other's strengths so well that they almost have improv down to a formula. "They've learned what works and what doesn't," he said. "And they know how to use their talents to the best of their abilities."

Pafumi said the students know exactly when to deliver their lines, when to let the other person talk, who's best at coming up with the ideas and who's good at doing which part. "They even know who's good at reacting to the others and who's best at sound effects," he added. "As actors, they completely trust each other and they don't hesitate."