Student performers and writers of the Claremont Colleges gathered in Seaver Theatre at Pomona College last Friday, Nov. 2, for a series of performance workshops led by TMI Hollywood, a Los Angeles-based improvisational group, and guest speaker Ashley Williams of How I Met Your Mother. The event, hosted by Pitzer College, featured a series of three workshops: Improv, Writing and Breaking into the Business.
Professional sketch artists and comedians from TMI devised a series of scenarios and tasks for students to act out on the spot. These ranged from picking up a hitchhiker in an imaginary car to simply depicting a scene in three lines or less.
There was little time for formal introductions and awkward icebreakers for the student performers before they had to adopt completely new personas in front of this group of strangers. Students, told to think outside of the box, performed characters as diverse as British tourists, crying children and friendly housewives.
Improv, according to TMI actors, is not only extremely important in the entertainment industry, but also gives you the ability to speak in front of large groups of people.
“I think if you want to get into the industry, it is a pretty useful workshop,” said attendee Elaine Tsao SC ’15.
Writers for the TMI sketch group additionally hosted a panel discussion about what it takes to write sketch comedy.
The writers also shared a bit about the collaborative effort between writers and actors involved in devising a scene. As a general rule of thumb, the writers agreed that it is important to focus on what you find funny, not what others think.
The workshops culminated in a discussion led by actress Ashley Williams, best known for her role as Victoria on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. Williams shared her experiences breaking into the entertainment business as a child star coming from a family of humble means. She spoke about her time as a student enrolled in the Boston University Theatre Program and a teenage soap opera actress. Williams said tremendous luck was one of the major contributors to her success today.
When asked how she fell into the television industry, Williams considered financial stability as one of the most important factors.
“I wish I could say that I sat with my own creative self and considered what I wanted to do but I was raised very, very, very poor, and the whole idea was just figuring out how to pay bills,” Williams said.
She also shared insight she has gained after ten years of acting.
“One of the things I think makes a stable working actor is knowing how to be unemployed. You need to be able to fill your days constructively, non-stressfully. Your job is readiness. You need to have a constructive way to live your life when you have no auditions,” Williams said.
Williams later discussed her lifelong devotion to acting class and being a doula, or birthing coach. According to Williams, these other aspects of your character are what can get you a job.
Williams’s best advice to aspiring actors was simple.
“Take your breaths, keep your schedule, get your sleep, don’t drink too much, try to be a normal person and when you’re playing a character, play and then leave it alone and then go home and have some water,” she said.