A group of people in an improvisational workshop smile and pose for the camera.

Aggie ACHIEVE Students To Show Improvisation Skills In Event With School of Performance, Visualization And Fine Arts

A Friday event at Texas A&M University’s School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts will showcase the improvisation skills of students in the Aggie ACHIEVE program.

The free event at 6:30 p.m. in the Black Box Theater in the Liberal Arts and Humanities Building is the culmination of a two-day workshop with the students led by performance studies faculty members Dr. Michelle Simms and Anne Quackenbush.

The concept with Aggie ACHIEVE — the comprehensive transition program for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities — began in fall 2022. Simms and Quackenbush worked with The Improvaneer Method on a workshop and performance with Aggie ACHIEVE. The organization uses improvisation to enhance life-skill learning for people with developmental disabilities.

The workshop included improv games that aim to build interactive abilities, but also to create a community within the participants. All improv performers learn to be supportive, Simms said. This includes such techniques as the response of “Yes, and …” or “No, but …” to keep a performance going.

“This is how you’re supporting the next player, instead of shutting down with no option for them to proceed with the game or with the performance,” Simms said. “So we’re creating this community, and developing skills they can use for the public performance.”

The fall performance was optional, and there was some initial reluctance at the start of the workshop, Simms said. But that quickly turned into enthusiasm, and all Aggie ACHIEVE students participated.

Two people smile as they engage in an improvisation performance.
Aggie ACHIEVE students first collaborated with The Improvaneer Method and the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts in a workshop and event in fall 2022. Photos by Glen Vigus.

“Not only did they want to, but they wanted to do more,” Simms said. “They asked very specific questions that revealed they self-assessed as not having the opportunity to perform, to do art. So that was a goal for us, to make space within the arts for different levels and different types of abilities.”

Dr. Heather Dulas, program director for Aggie ACHIEVE, said collaborating with the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts and The Improvaneer Method has been a welcomed addition for the students.

“It’s given them a chance to pursue some active roles in theater arts, and I think that’s an important place for our students to be,” she said. “Improv really gives our students the opportunity and the benefit of being able to think a little bit more quickly on their feet, to be creative and to express themselves to a new and wider audience.”

Simms and Quackenbush went through a training program with The Improvaneer Method and were certified, and now can lead the workshops and performances multiple times a year. The goal, Simms said, was to develop a course that is informed by The Improvaneer Method and that integrates Aggie ACHIEVE and Texas A&M students. Simms said professors can currently make courses available to Aggie ACHIEVE students with a separate syllabus and the students undertake the curriculum in a different way.

“What Anne and I are looking at is, can we actually make a college-level class that mainstreams Aggie ACHIEVE students instead of having them be separate in the same space?” Simms said. “This, to us, makes a more holistic learning environment for everyone involved.”

The result is a special topics course — Intro to Improv (PERF 489) — that will debut in the fall, taught by Simms and Quackenbush. Both Aggie ACHIEVE and Texas A&M students will benefit, Simms said. Among the students who may take part are those interested in careers working with people with developmental disabilities, she said.

For Friday’s event, which is co-hosted by the Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts, seven Aggie ACHIEVE students will perform. Simms said working with the students “gives me life” on two different levels.

“One is the no-constraints way of thinking,” she said. “It’s the purity of creation and creativity. It is flying without a net. But also being able to integrate this into a world that not many people may have experience with, like developmental disabilities. Seeing this become a holistic microcosm of ‘We’re all in this soup together, how are we going to swim?’ That is so exciting to see in learning communities.”

Top photo: Aggie ACHIEVE students first collaborated with The Improvaneer Method and the School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts in a workshop and event in fall 2022. Photos by Glen Vigus.

More updates