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Stretching the mind

The actors meeting at the Talent library on Saturday afternoons don't need a script.

Instead of memorizing and rehearsing, they rely on the moment, quick thinking and each other. They spin yarns and invent characters — with little to no time given to work out the kinks — and bring them to life.

Participants in these free improvisational comedy workouts, held from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturdays at the library, 101 Home St., are giving their imaginations and confidence a good sweat.

"It's freer," said Lyda Woods, who leads the group. "But you really have to be in the moment, and that's scary."

It's also fun, she said. She's been leading the class for about six months at the prompting of several senior citizens to whom she teaches acting at the Ashland Senior Center. A theater veteran and master of fine arts from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, Woods said her class has grown into a fun way to spend Saturday afternoons and develop creatively.

"I love humor," she said. "Laughter is such an incredible mood-shifter. I walk out of class feeling so much better."

Like any effective workout, the exercises for the most recent session varied. Participants invented a character on the fly, a persona they thought could be found in the Jackson County Jail, and started interacting with each other. They held mock auditions for a comical — oft uncomfortable — "American Idol."

They also broke up into groups and acted out their own interpretations of the "Three Little Pigs" fairy tale. Stan McIntosh, playing the Big Bad Wolf, ended his group's sketch with a loud howl after his character fell down the brick house pig's chimney into a pot of boiling water.

Archie Koenig, who has been coming for three months, said improvisational acting is a good way to break people out of their shells, the characters they are used to acting out all day long.

"It helps loosen me up and enables me to be spontaneous," he said.

For other members, it's a good way to develop their written works. Cindy Rogan, a local playwright and novelist, said it helps with inventing characters and putting herself in their shoes, even if those characters never make it to the page.

She's still a little shy but has become much more comfortable since she started three months ago, she said.

"It's scary putting yourself out there," she said.

Robynn Sheahan, a young-adult fantasy writer and friend of Rogan's, said the improv classes are good for keeping her imagination active.

"It stretches your mind," she said. "I find it actually helps if you act it out."

She added that she has grown in her abilities as an actor through the class. If someone would have told her she would be able to get up in front of strangers and act on the fly four months ago, she would have told them they were nuts. Now it's different. She'd just stand right up and go.

"I am having a blast," she said. "It's just really a lot of fun."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com

Lyda Woods reacts to one of the “American Idol” performers. - Julia Moore