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On-the-spot success: Julie Watkins ’17

Known for her witty personality and hardworking nature, Julie Watkins shares all about her passion for improvisational theater.

 

For many students, extracurricular activities include sports, study groups or music lessons, but for Julie Watkins ‘17, they include lively performances, acting-based games and impromptu scene-building. Since September, Watkins has been a devoted participant in the Iowa Improv Club, and the Iowa City improv community as a whole, impressing many with her eye for improvement and utmost creativity.

 

Improvisational theater, often shortened to “improv,” is a form of theater in which most of or all of a scene’s aspects are created as they are performed. These shows rely heavily on the actors’ imagination and ingenuity, and the ability to adapt and think quickly. The dialogue, actions, setting, characters and story unfold wondrously in front of the audience’s eyes.

“You have to go in with an idea, and be willing to change that idea as the scene progresses. It’s like herding cats.” Said former captain of the improv group Great White Narcs Cara Larson. “You start off with one idea, only to change that idea 15 times to try and get the chaos under control.”

 

While the on-the-spot characteristic may seem intimidating, many thrive in its beneficial aspects and positive social environment. “[Improv] is weird but fun,” she  said, “it has brought me a lot of joy and good times.”

My favorite thing about improv is the dynamic between scene partners. Even if you just met someone, you can feel like you know them by the end of the scene.”

— Julie Watkins

“Improv is all about having fun and creating something that everyone can be a part of,” said co-founder and leader of the Iowa Improv Club Ryan Foy. “We just aim to have a great time, and we all enjoy ourselves.”

Despite the fact that she doesn’t perform in any improv shows herself, Watkins always enjoys attending them and highly recommends it.

“If anyone’s interested,” Watkins said, laughing, “they should come to a show! Whether or not people are interested in performing, everyone enjoys the shows.”

 

Although she has only been participating in  improv for short time, Watkins makes up for her lack of experience in her love for theater and comedy. She first heard of the improv community through social media, and she has been hooked ever since.

“I got into improv by checking the ‘interested’ box on a Paperback Rhino [improv] show on Facebook,” Watkins said. “I was actually really sketched out once I got to the show, because it’s in this random church basement, but I kept going.” After that fateful encounter, Watkins began to attend more shows. The more frequently she went, the more she wanted to get directly involved. Once she did, her simple enjoyment of improv turned into an avid passion.  

To me, Julie has always been around the Iowa City comedy community,” Larson said, “it feels like one day she just appeared and was really funny and now she’s stuck with us.”

 

Watkins is currently a part of the Iowa Improv Club, a non-audition, student-run organization through the University of Iowa. Rather than preparing for performances, the group focuses on on the learning and overall togetherness aspect of improvisational theater.

“[I] want this club to be about having fun and learning or exploring rather than pleasing an audience.” Foy said.

For many others, a big part of improv theater is enjoying oneself and building strong bonds, not preparation for presenting. After all, spontaneity is the basis of its founding.

“Ultimately [the club] is just an outlet,” said Evan Hull, another founder and co-leader of the Iowa Improv Club, “we can all have a good time and get better at improvising.”

“I leave the club happier every time,” Foy said. “I hope to make others feel that way, too.”

It’s rewarding both in the moment and the long term. You’re always trying to get better, but at the same time it’s really fun to get together and pretend.”

— Julie Watkins

Every Tuesday evening, Watkins and 12-15 other members of the Iowa Improv Club meet at the Iowa Memorial Union to play games, make up scenes and learn from one another. All are welcome, and every participant is appreciated.

“You can just sign up, anyone can do it,” Watkins said. “[The club] is an alternative for those who try out for other improv troupes [and] didn’t make it, but still want to participate.”

As the only high school student that regularly attends, Watkins brings a unique energy to the meetings. The intimidation of being the youngest quickly faded. Now she highly recommends it for others her age.

“It’s rewarding both in the moment and the long term,” Watkins said, “you’re always trying to get better, but at the same time it’s really fun to get together and pretend.”

 

The group usually kicks off a meeting with a warm-up, and for an improv club, this means a game. “We usually start with a couple games just for fun,” Foy said. “It gets the creativeness flowing and warms us up.”

Next, the group splits up to create a scene. This involves receiving a suggestion — usually in the form of a single word — that kicks off a unique story.

“A performer comes to the front of the stage and gives a short story about what they hear when they think about that word,” Watkins said, explaining. “Then, the other performers start the scene based on the monologue they just heard.”

These exercises branch from a single idea into an astonishingly well-developed story in a very short amount of time.

“It’s funny because by the end of the scene we’re in a submarine or a coal mine,” Watkins said, “ It becomes very real.”

Finally, the troop convenes to share their takeaways from the practice. “[We] talk about what went well and what needs to be worked on for the future.” Watkins said.

 

Her participation in the Iowa Improv Club and the improv community in general have allowed  Watkins to embrace a stand-out personality commended by her peers. “Julie [showcases] everything I want in a person: creativity, open-mindedness and optimism.” Foy said. “In general she is super nice, funny and goofy.”

“Julie is a great performer with an excellent sense for improv,” Hull said. “She is a great scene partner and always looking to improve the scene, which is one of the best qualities and improviser can have. She meshes well with everyone.”

“My favorite thing about improv is the dynamic between scene partners.” Watkins said. “Even if you just met someone, you can feel like you know them by the end of the scene.”

 

Watkins also plans to continue participating in improv theater opportunities long after she graduates high school.

“My plan is to go to school in Chicago next year, where I’ll be able to take classes at improv theaters on the weekends.” Watkins said, thinking, “I want to pursue this because it brings me a lot of joy, but also teaches practical skills.”

Those who know Julie are confident that not only will she achieve this feat, but it will lead her onto a prosperous career in improvisational theater.

I think Julie will have a crazy amount of success.” Larson said,  “She has all the fundamentals of improv down and I can only see her continuing to grow as an improviser. It’s obvious she’s passionate about improv.

Not only are her friends convinced of her post-high school improv theater accomplishment, but her teachers are as well.

“She will be successful, I guarantee it,” Foy said, “the improv scene is so competitive, [but] she thrives in it. She deserves it.”

“She loves the art and works hard for it.” Hull said, agreeing.

 

A future in improvisational theater is not a hard to reach goal for Watkins, especially with her admired personality and undeniable talent.

“I’m always impressed by how great she is and I know she’s only going to continue to get better.” Larson said.

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On-the-spot success: Julie Watkins ’17