Detroit’s talent pool runs very deep. Famous actors and not-so-famous, but very familiar faces got their start right here. Some of those talented (and very funny) people who developed their craft at the now-defunct Second City Detroit improv theater decided that although they have moved on to successful careers in LA, they wanted to do something to harness the city’s incredible creativity. Thus was launched the Detroit Creativity project by native Michiganders Beth Hagenlocker and Marc Evan Jackson, along with fellow Second City Detroit alumni Keegan-Michael Key, Margaret Edwartowski and Larry Joe Campbell.
Margaret Edwartowski is the director of Y-Arts Detroit, which provides arts education in many disciplines. When the Detroit Creativity Project was born her friends naturally went to her to implement it. “It’s a whole lot of my peers from that era,” she says. The had a strong desire to do something here because they’re so Detroit-loving and loyal.”
Their pilot project was to fund 10-week improv classes at three high schools in Detroit. Professional improv performers and teachers joined drama classes at Cass Tech, Western International, and Ace Academy, which is a school for incarcerated youth. “That’s been super rewarding” Margaret said. “Improv supports a sense of play and positive, open communication and teamwork, like they are trying to teach there. And a victory there is like 10 victories somewhere else.”
Graduates of the program from Cass Tech and Western did a showcase this past weekend to demonstrate what they’ve learned. Marc Evan Jackson, who is a professional actor in LA but trained at Second City here, and Beth Hagenlocker came into town for the show with a crew of filmmakers who will create a video in hopes of raising funds to expand the program further.
The lessons of improv go beyond acting techniques to instill a sense of bravery in tackling difficult challenges, Marc says. “When you are willing to fail boldly, you almost never do,” he says. “It’s when you make beige, safe choices, that’s when you fail.”
Some of the students in the improv troupes were already performers; others may never choose to be onstage again. But the lessons of improv — to be fearless, to go for broke, and to trust your teammates — will help them throughout their lives.
Friends Julian Feliciano and Mario Castorena from Western High played on their longtime love for making their friends laugh in their improv experience. Both say the experience was something they’d always wanted to do.
Western High drama teacher Patrick Butler says he really wanted his students to experience professional actors and how they approach their crafts. “I wanted them to see someone who has been onstage, and learn about how to write something on the spot and enjoy it,” he said.
“I’ve done theater, and done improv, but this was the program that really worked with us,” said Tonaya Chapman, one of the Western students. “We were like a field filled with seeds but no one watered us …now, we are like a field of talented trees.”
The Detroit Creativity Project founders hope they can eventually expand the project to include visual arts, music, or any sort of creative pursuit young people might want to learn more about.