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ELA Students Shine on UCB Stage

After 12 weeks of in-class training and exercises, 31 students from Emerson College Los Angeles (ELA) took the stage at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) Sunset to perform improv over two nights, April 12-13, in front of friends, family, ELA staff, and comedy fans.

“It usually takes a combination of time and great effort for young improv performers to earn the opportunity to perform on stage at UCB, in Hollywood,” said faculty member Brad Lemack, who helps teach one of the ELA-UCB courses. “But our ELA-UCB improv students took the stage front and center and gave performances worthy of professionals.”

Students in the ELA-UCB course listen to Billy Merritt in preparation for their improv performance at UCB Sunset on April 12. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Raina Dearwater ’16 took the stage on April 12 with 10 of her classmates, starting the night by performing improv based on a suggested word from the audience, dreamcatcher. Dearwater said she felt a bit nervous before taking the stage, but was all smiles after the performance.   

“We got a lot of laughs, which I wasn’t sure we would, so it was great,” said Dearwater, who hopes to write comedy one day. “It was really fun.”

ELA-UCB students perform improv in front of an audience of friends, family, and comedy fans at UCB Sunset on April 12. Photo/Daryl Paranada

Launched in fall 2015, the ELA-UCB course proved so popular that two classes were offered in the spring 2016 semester. Alumnus Drew DiFonzo Marks ’05, a UCB veteran, taught one course with Lemack while Chantal Rodriguez, programming director at the Los Angeles Theatre Centre, and Billy Merritt, a performer, teacher, and director with UCB Theatre when it first opened in New York, taught the other.

Rodriguez said she felt that the students had grown tremendously over the course of the semester in terms of learning the core basics of improv. On stage, she said the students really fed off the audience’s energy.

“They did really well. So many of them got out there and got lots of laughs, which was great,” said Rodriguez, who noted that many of her students are writers using the course as an avenue to improve their comedy writing.

Students from one of the two ELA-UCB courses share a moment before taking the stage at UCB Sunset on April 12, 2016. Photo/Daryl Paranada

CJ Maiorino ’16, an intern at the Groundlings Theatre and School, had such a fun time taking the course that he said he hoped to continue learning improv at UCB.

“We’ve all had such a good time with each other in class and we had an amazing time performing,” said Maiorino. “This is all about the chemistry we have with each other and that really came through on stage.”

Zach Stetson ’16 was one the audience members supporting Maiorino. Watching his classmates perform on stage got him excited for his own show the following night. Stetson described his time on the UCB stage as “kind of scary,” but thought the show went well.

“It was really fun. We got a lot of laughs. I was really happy,” said Stetson. “I had a great time doing this class and I’m really glad it’s taught at ELA.”

Students from the ELA-UCB course taught by faculty member Brad Lemack and Drew DiFonzo Marks '05 prepare to take the stage at UCB Sunset on April 13. Photo/Brad Lemack

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