BGSU faculty member shares love & lessons of improv comedy

From left, Diana DePasquale, Erin Kanary, and Nick Morgan of Glass City Improv. (Photo by Natalie Eisel/provided)


BG Independent News

Comedy can change your life.

It did for Diana DePasquale. Now an instructor at Bowling Green State University, she was in a period of transition when she took her first improv comedy class with the Upright Citizens Brigade back in New York City in January, 2002.

She said it was a “transformational time” in her life. That’s putting it mildly. Within a year she was divorced, her mother died, and then she lost her job forcing her to sell her home.

Her new-found passion, though, endured. “Improv inspired me to take risks I hadn’t thought possible. My life is so very different than what I ever thought was possible for me. ”

It set her on a road to higher education and led to teaching gender and ethnic studies at BGSU.

Now, in her new home, she’s committed to sharing the love and lessons of improv with others.

About eight months ago, she and fellow performers, Nick Morgan and Erin Kanary, formed Glass City Improv as a vehicle for their own artistry and teaching.

The troupe is now enrolling students for classes that will begin later in August. The eight-week classes are held in the Valentine Theatre’s Studio A. Each concludes with a showcase performance. Cost is $150.

Kanary will teach the Level 1 class, “Fall in love with improv. Love. Truth. Play.” It runs Thursdays, 6:30-8 p.m., starting Aug. 16.

Morgan will teach the Level 3 class, “Seriously, get a room.  Risk. Discover. Build.”  That class runs Wednesdays, 6:30-9 p.m. starting Aug. 16.

DePasquale teaches the Level 2 class, “Dig that honeymoon phase … Trust. Listen. Agree.” That class is already full. But she’ll be teaching a one-day workshop for women only, “No Shrinking Violets,” Saturday, Aug. 25, 9 a.m. to noon.

The troupe has a performance Friday, Aug. 10 at 8 p.m. at the Art and Performance Center of West Toledo,
2702 W. Sylvania Ave.

The faculty have their own individual focuses.

An award-winning writer, Kanary, who studied improv and sketch writing at The Second City and iO in Chicago and Planet Ant in Detroit, focuses on love and play. In Level 1 students engage in short form games that encourage students to be honest and open up.

Morgan is also an alum of The Second City and iO. He pushes students to be bold and take risks, DePasquale said. The performers need to make active, not passive choices. “It makes for a more robust scenes. Otherwise it’s just two talking heads,” DePasquale said.

In Level 3 students build longer scenes.

DePasquale in Level 2 bridges the two with a focus on building trust and listening. “Trust is one of the first tenets of improv,” she said. Performers must trust each other to follow their suggestions. Listening is key for picking up the cues their partners are giving them, so they can build upon them.

A recent scene done by Morgan and one of their advanced student Jeremy Natter showed how these elements come together.

The suggestion from the audience was window washers.

Morgan turned to Natter and asked: Do you want to hook up my harness?

What ensued was a physical sketch with Natter ending up on Morgan’s back, and Morgan doing a somersault. “It shows how much they trusted each other,” DePasquale said. “It was not only smart and surprising, but very funny.”

DePasquale remembers her own early days with the Upright Citizens Brigade as “a really creatively fulfilling period.” She loved the spontaneity of improv and the emphasis on play.

She also enjoyed the people she met in the community. Most had gone to college. DePasquale had not. Her parents couldn’t afford to send her. An abortive stab at it failed. She took a few classes, but conflicts with working as a waitress and bartender, meant she ended up dropping out.

“Taking improv classes, I found out I could be funny and then I wanted to see if I could be smart, too,” she said. “The two things go hand in hand. The best people to improvise with are the smartest people I ever met.”

In 2006, she started attending Rutgers University majoring in American Studies. Her interest in cultural and identity grew out of her upbringing.

Born in 1969, she spent the first 10 years of her childhood in the ethnically mixed, working class city of Paterson, New Jersey. Most of her friends were African-American and Puerto Rican. The city also has strong ties to modern poetry. Allen Ginsberg grew up there, and his mentor William Carlos Williams wrote an epic poem about the city.

Then her family moved to a farm in the country, and all the kids around her were white.

The youngest of three children, she watched a lot of TV. “I was influenced by ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and stories about American history and identity,” DePasquale said. “I wanted to see how our American identity is expressed through our cultural products – film, TV, poetry, and music. The best major for that is American Studies.”

When she finished her undergraduate studies, she was told that the place to continue pursuing this academic work was BGSU.

That’s what brought her here, first for a masters and then a PhD. She found love and marriage here as well.

But she couldn’t find an improv scene. She considered offering classes, but couldn’t find an affordable space.

Then she met Morgan and Kanary and Glass City Improv was born. For brief time they taught through the Toledo Rep, before going out on their own. Morgan had connections with the Valentine, so they were able to secure the use of the studio space.

“The thing that’s so great to watch as we’ve had more students is our community has gotten bigger,” DePasquale said. That’s more people in the audience for more shows that students are staging at more venues. “It’s becoming a bigger and bigger community of people who appreciate this art form and like hanging out together.”