It's not easy to make up a scenario, on the spot, involving a giant chicken, a dead body and someone juggling.
But the quick-witted thespians of Chantilly High did — and for their efforts, they won the Theater Sports Competition held Jan. 5 at Robinson Secondary School.
THE TEAM of Michael Poandl, Jesse Igbokwe, Jake Ashey, Chloe West and Hilary Baird beat 11 other schools and emerged victorious for the second time in a row. Langley and Westfield finished second and third, respectively.
"Our team motto is 'No expectations,'" said sophomore Poandl, 15. "So it felt great to win — especially for me, Hilary and Chloe because it was our first theater sports competition."
The winning school's name and its actors' names are inscribed on a trophy that remains with that school until the next competition. "Having won it last time, we'd brought it to the competition," said Poandl. "So it was nice to bring it back again to our drama department."
Each team was given variables to incorporate into the four skits, or games, it had to perform. In Poandl's favorite game, Chantilly's actors were inside a giant chicken while someone was juggling.
"We had two minutes to go with what we had," he explained. "So we made it a circus, and Jake was the ringmaster who led a little girl around and showed her everything in the circus — even a dead body. Chloe was the girl and Hilary played the chicken. That was the last skit — five teams were left, at that point — and we got 'nines' from all three judges. Ten is the best, and that's what won it for us."
The toughest part of improvisation, said Poandl, is "knowing when to enter the scene and do something, or not, to move it along. It's all about teamwork." What he likes best is "the laughter — when you do something on the spot and the audience responds to it."
IN IMPROV, said West, one person does a scene and says, "Freeze." Another actor joins in and they perform together, and it continues until all five team members are on stage. Then they exit in the same order. And with just a couple minutes to do it all, said West, "You have to make your scene make sense within 20 seconds."
Her favorite game was "Space Jump" because she liked how her team executed it. "I thought we did a really good job," said West, a senior. "Our variables were a tollbooth, a disco and an octopus machine."
"Jesse was warming up for a disco tournament, and Jake made Jesse be the octopus machine," she explained. "Jesse used his arms, hair, facial expressions and entire body, and it was really funny. Then Hilary acted as a director, and Jake and Jesse were auditioning for 'Romeo and Juliet.' Then Michael pretended there was a fire, and I came in as a lady at a tollbooth and they acted like they were cars."
West said winning was "awesome. And it was really special to get first place in my first time on the team — it was so exciting."
Ashey, also a senior, said it's important for teammates to have good chemistry and be able to "almost anticipate" each other's actions. In the chicken scenario, he played a demented ringmaster.
"We were performing for a 5-year-old's birthday party," he said. "This morbid circus included ventriloquism with a dead body as a puppet, and a juggler who turned into the girl's grandpa. I liked it best because it was the most outlandish, but had the best audience reaction."
Freshman Baird re-enacted a day in the life of an audience member. It involved a family dinner with aunts and uncles, a ride with friends, listening to music and attending a theater-sports event.
"I PLAYED an aunt and someone in the car," said Baird. "I liked our ending — we all decided to go buy some shoes. I like having fun in front of an audience and being myself. We were hoping to win; we had our fingers crossed every single time the other teams came out."
Igbokwe, 18, said they all did their best. He and Ashey were team captains and had everyone rehearse beforehand "to build a chemistry between us, because it's all about knowing your teammates."
Although Igbokwe was initially nervous, he was thrilled that everything turned out so well for Chantilly. "I brought a lot of my friends who aren't drama kids, with me, to see us perform," he said. "And they really liked it, so they're getting the buzz about drama — which is really cool."