How can you succeed? Improvise
Theatre grad excels at comedy and acting, uses those skills in daily life.
Story by Barbara Brooks | Photos by Alyson McClaran
With two small words — “Yes … and” — Toby Yount has improved at networking, become a better friend and learned to accept whatever life offers. He also has had great success in Denver’s improvisational-theatre scene.
“In improv, ‘Yes … and’ is always true,” said Yount, who in 2016 was named Denver’s “Next Improv Star” in Season 7 of the Bovine Metropolis Theater’s elimination-style competition. “It’s about accepting what’s already there and adding to it.”
Since winning the contest, Yount, a 2017 MSU Denver graduate, has performed regularly: as half of the duo Chocolate Thunder and Vanilla Lightning, with Bovine’s rotation cast and house team, and at other local venues. Last year, he teamed up with Jeffrey Parker, associate professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, in a half-hour duo performance that “thrilled and terrified” Parker.
Parker arrived at MSU Denver two years ago. He was attracted to the University’s commitment to lateral learning — helping students build bridges between the classroom and the real world — and the Theatre Department’s motto, “Equipment for Living.” Having previously taught under a conservatory-style model, where deep training was prioritized over applied skills, he said the change was refreshing.
“Theatre is an eminently useful skill for all areas of life,” said Parker, who won a Faculty Senate Teaching Excellence Award last year and is one of 12 people worldwide certified by two prestigious vocal training programs. “It makes us better human beings and helps in every field. Improv — with its focus on building trust, accepting all ideas as good ones and collaboration — is the most sterling example of this concept.”
In the 13-week improv class, Parker said he teaches three main skills: agreement (always accept another player’s offer); make your partner perfect (if you focus on yourself, you risk missing out on what else is going on in the world); and play as fully as you can (get out of your head and allow yourself to be surprised).
At MSU Denver, Parker also teaches Voice, Acting and Musical Theatre. As a teaching artist at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, he coaches adults to use focus, voice and other theatre skills to be more effective in business and community work.
Yount said he uses his improv skills every day.
“Instead of wishing life was different, or better, or easier, I can look at any situation and see how I can add to it or use what I have to my advantage,” he said. “My relationships are healthier too because improv teaches me to actively listen.”
Yount also credits his improv skills for helping him make connections. He got his day job at Rooster & Lark, a local food company, through a theatre friendship.
“Networking, like improv, is really just talking and listening to people,” he said. “If you forget about an ulterior motive and just notice people, you’ll find similar interests and they will remember you.”
“Toby is one of the best partners I’ve ever worked with,” Parker said. “He is present, creative, and has no fear. Where he leads, I will follow. And whatever crazy idea I have, he will make it work.”On June 3, Yount debuted as a director with “Dreamprov,” a show he created and cast in collaboration with Bovine’s executive producer and creative director. Performances are scheduled for June 6, 13, 20 and 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Bovine, 1527 Champa St. in Denver.
Yount stumbled into improvisational theatre five years ago, when he attended a free drop-in class at Bovine “just to get out of the house.” A year or so later, he completed his studies at the Community College of Denver and transferred to MSU Denver. Within months, he changed his major from physics to theatre, connected with Parker and added a minor in advertising and promotion.
“Being a theatre major, you could easily be in a bubble,” Yount said, “but not at MSU. The department does a really good job of teaching what you really need to learn to be successful in life.”
In Theatre Career Development I and II — a required course and his senior experience, respectively — Yount “learned what to expect and how to present” himself through a professional résumé, cover letter and head shot, and at auditions. His minor taught him to brand himself based on his strengths and to market his upcoming show.
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