Special Preview: Improv for Youth Comes to Simpsonville at The TreeHouse

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BY SANDY STAGGS
ARTS WRITER

There are many valuable resources in Greenville County where young people can learn theater skills, but now the art of improv for youth has arrived.

The TreeHouse Storytelling & Improv school is now offering classes starting Sept. 6 at the Simpsonville Fine Arts Center, the site of the old Simpsonville elementary school.

Founded by Mackensie Pelicano, an active member of the now-dissolved FIRE Theatre in Fountain Inn and wife of the company’s artistic director Zachary Pelicano, TreeHouse Improv has Wednesday afternoon and evening sessions for children and youth from ages 6-9, 10-13 and for teens.

Until recently, Pelicano also taught youth theatre at the Arts Academy at the Younts Center, where she got to know many parents in the area, many who have already enrolled their youngsters in her improv classes.

And why did she name her school the TreeHouse?
“A treehouse is one of those scared spaces of your childhood,” she explained. “You can be anyone you want to be in your treehouse and its invitation only. It’s a safe space to reinvent and imagine yourself.”

“The [Simpsonville] space is really, really cute,” she said.  “The auditorium is similar to the Younts when we first started working there with FIRE Theatre. And the classroom has a very vintage feel with bead board walls and skinny windows.”

And Pelicano says she has been given a lot of liberty in decorating the classroom, hinting that she plans to paint murals on the walls (on panels), “which will act as a guestbook so that season by season we can watch it grow.”

With the rambunctious 6-9 year old set in “Games and Story-Creating,” we “play a lot of improv games like Zip Zap Zop and dance parties to get our energy out at the beginning of the class,” she said.

“And we even do guided meditation like imagining that they are relaxing on a hammock and breathing exercises,” she added. “It’s incredible how you are able to conduct that energy and get them focused.”

Pelicano said the youngest students will create characters and she will incorporate those characters into scripts that will be performed for parents at the final Showcase in mid-December.

Middle schoolers in “Scripting and Staging a Sketch” actually work on writing the script with Pelicano, on plot development and story structure, in addition to a lot of improvisational games.

The teenagers in “Improvising as a Team” are getting into more improv theory, she said, honing their improvisational skills and showcasing more advanced exercises like those seen on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”

“Improv also helps develop life skills,” she added. That’s especially true for the middle schoolers “when there is so much importance on being correct and cool and being the kind of person that is going to be acceptable.”

“It’s incredible to be your actual self and try on hats of different personalities. This is true in all theater classes but improv gives you a chance to think on your feet and know there are no wrong answers.”

“And as a kid who was terrible at sports, I want kids who don’t really like sports to try improv. It’s very physical and kinetic and you can be part of team even if you’re not scoring points with a ball,” she said.

Pelicano said she would like to grow her TreeHouse to include adults and seniors with an infinite number of branches she said, even for private parties and corporate workshops.

“For seniors who are struggling with dementia, thinking about the past or future can be very daunting and this teaches about being in the present,” she said. “It builds critical thinking skills in children and a beautiful empowering escape for those that older.”

The Simpsonville Fine Arts Center is located at 110 Academy St. in Simpsonville. To register for classes at The TreeHouse Improv, visit www.treehouseimprov.com or call (864) 630-8446.

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