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The Best of High School Improv

Chantilly High wins countywide TheatreSports contest.

A record 16 schools participated last Friday, Jan. 6, in the countywide TheatreSports competition at Robinson Secondary School and, when the dust cleared, Chantilly High emerged victorious.

"THE MOST teams ever competing before were 13," said Chantilly senior Marley Monk. "And they were only expecting 10, this year. Robinson is a large theater — and it was packed."

Teams of at least five students each performed three improvisational skits and received points from referees. Chantilly captured first place with 71 points, followed by South County and Robinson in second and third place, respectively.

Chantilly's team was comprised of students Jake Ashey, Jesse Igbokwe, Marley Monk, Mike Wilbur, Chris Liotta, Chris Crowley and Christina Day. And Theater Director Ed Monk was proud of them all. Said Monk: "I'm real pleased they did so well because it was a tough competition, as always."

The audience provides variables — such as a location, object and person — to the referee, and then a team has a split second to pick from a selection of them for its skit or game.

The first game, called "Fairytales," was a takeoff on the movie, "The Princess Bride." In it, Zeus' lightning was one of the variables. "I played the character, Farm Boy," said junior Jake Ashey, 16. "And after I established a relationship with the girl, played by Marley Monk, Mike Wilbur came on as Zeus and struck me with lightning."

In the second game, called "Expert," one player was an expert on the variable of knitting, and the other teammates were reporters interviewing him. So Jesse Igbokwe portrayed an expert in "extreme knitting."

"It was my favorite one," said Marley Monk, 18. "We asked Jesse questions about it, and he related a story about stabbing his own brother in an extreme knitting competition."

In the third game, "Offstage Voices," Chris Crowley went offstage with a microphone while his teammates chose an inanimate object variable. "He provided the voice for it, and we created a scene around it," said Ashey. "It was my Dr. Pepper hat. We say it's the hat that brought us victory because we also used it in the [tiebreaker] 'Hat Game.' When South County tried to grab it, they missed, so we won.'"

The tiebreaker was necessary because, at the end of the regulation three games, Chantilly and West County High were tied for the top spot. Chantilly senior Mike Wilbur wore the Dr. Pepper hat, as did a South County student, while improvising a scene and trying to snatch each other's hat.

SOPHOMORE Christina Day, 16, said that was her favorite part of the competition. "It was really suspenseful, and both of the actors did a good job keeping it interesting," she said. "Mike Wilbur put in some really funny jokes and sang the song, 'Turning Japanese,' by Duran Duran."

Wilbur, though, attributed his victory mostly to "luck, and tightening the hat when I put it on to keep [my opponent] from grabbing it." He said he was nervous, but felt ecstatic about winning. "In the final few seconds, everything went in slow motion," he explained. "[The opponent] put his hand on the brim of my hat, but I managed to pull it away."

During the third game, sophomore Crowley, 15, gave the hat a baby voice that he said was a real "crowd pleaser. I used my voice to bring the storyline together." Wilbur, 18, liked that game the best. Another of the variables in it was a mascot, and he played one attending a mascot convention.

"I was a ridiculously large-headed bird," he said. "I had my hands up to show where my head would be, because I got stuck in a revolving door."

Monk believes she and her teammates did so well because "Chantilly's trained to be an ensemble unit. Nobody's a stage hog. And with improvisation, if you can work five people into a one-minute scene, it's more impressive than if one person did it all."

Still, she added, the theater students are friends with their counterparts at the other schools, so it's a friendly competition. Said Monk: "This was South County's first year, and it was really fun to see a whole, new school compete."

As a team, said Ashey, "Our motto as we go into competitions is 'No expectations.' So we try to focus on having fun and doing our best. But we were excited to do so well and to win. I like just getting a chance to play the games and entertain. And I like the audience involvement when they get to choose the variables."

Wilbur, too, said Chantilly's team mentality played a big part in its success. "Rather than having a bunch of individuals shine, we're consistently making the team look good," he said. Besides that, said Wilbur, this improvisational contest is "all in good fun. It's great when you win but, even when you lose, you've usually had a great time doing it."

DAY THOUGHT her team had a chance of placing, but said she was surprised and excited when Chantilly won the whole event. She was also happy because "It's a rush being onstage and getting to work with the team. And improvisation helps you because, if you miss a line in a real play, you don't just stand there like a deer in the headlights. You'll be able to keep going."

Crowley said he especially liked being backstage "while we were waiting, and getting pumped up to go onstage. We played games to concentrate and get energized." His favorite game was "Fairytales" and, he said, "I thought everybody on the team did a very good job acting on their feet." But that's what's cool about improvisational theater, said Crowley: "You never know what'll get thrown at you. It's always a surprise and lots of fun."