In firefighter radio code, a Code 20 means “Proceed to fire.” Over the past two months in McLean, Code 20 has meant “Proceed to improv,” the latest monthly show for the Alden Theatre’s Studio Rep group.
Studio Rep is a group of eight high schoolers that perform shows throughout the year. For the past few years, the group holds auditions at the start of each school year, and once the troupe is selected, they perform through May.
“The first year Studio Rep did a lot of comedy shows in the Alden, but the past year we decided to do more traveling shows around the community, and we added more pieces about social issues,” said Jeff Virchow, program manager for the group. “Those shows address issues such as bullying and other issues, and we do them for church groups, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and other community organizations as requested.”
Rosemary Ewing, a junior at the Potomac School, said she didn’t know much about the troupe when she joined.
“It’s mostly lighthearted stuff, with some realistic material for our traveling shows. Overall, it’s quite a wide range, which is fun to be a part of,” she said.
THEIR LATEST public performances have been Code 20 Improv, monthly shows at the Old Firehouse Teen Center. “These kids are so talented in every discipline in the performing arts, and I was looking around to give them a good avenue to use them,” Virchow said. “And I wanted them to have some fun. The goal is to have a complete performance that’s made for and by the students.”
Many of the Studio Rep members didn’t have previous improv experience.
“I love Code 20. I’ve done improv games before, but never in front of a full audience before,” Ewing said. “The audience gives the shows a lot of energy, they laugh at jokes, so you have to take that into account with the rhythm of everything. Before these shows I had a lot more dramatic experience.”
The improv show is divided into four parts: free association, short-form improv, an open mic where audience members can perform and one where an outside professional improv troupe comes in.
“Last time we brought in the Washington Improv Theater. It works well because I think it gives the kids a chance to watch a group that’s very strong, and they can come up with new games and learn new skills,” Virchow said.
Ewing said she’s learned some specific “rules” about what works onstage.
“Silly doesn’t mean funny. You can be silly, but you should never try to be funny, you just let funny happen,” she said. “You can have a situation where a geek is asking a popular girl to prom, there’s not a lot of ‘jokes’ but it can be very funny in the situation.”
Virchow said the improv shows have been fun so far, with some unexpected results.
“The first night we had a lot of adults getting up, even a grandfather. Someone even came up and did a wonderful Shakespeare monologue, another did a puppet show,” he said. “If we don’t have any takers, the students are ready to go, they’re trained to keep the momentum going, which is key, because if there’s a lull in the action, the audience can start to tune out.”
Since the students are from different area high schools, they get a chance to work with others outside their normal circles.
“It’s fun to watch students from different schools come together over their love of being on stage and get along and learn new skills together,” said Evelyn Verdon of the McLean Community Center, who works with Studio Rep. “They also learn how important it is to have a good work ethic, to be professionals, to show up on time, to learn their materials, to be responsible.”
THE NEXT CODE 20 SHOW will be Thursday, June 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Old Fire House Teen Center, 1440 Chain Bridge Road in McLean.