Students Explore Comedy in the 2024 P.A.T.H.S. Program

April 2, 2024

A group of students build up their self-confidence and access their untapped potential by engaging in the arts through the Frank C. Shattuck Performing Arts Touch the Hearts of Students (P.A.T.H.S.) Program each year. These students participate in interactive workshops, engagement opportunities and live experiences with a centralized theme connected to a Broadway show. After weeks of working on specific artistic skills, the students display their talents at the end of the program in a showcase for their family, friends, teachers and Center staff.

This year,18 high school students from Neenah High School built friendships and developed camaraderie with their peers that they might not have otherwise met through the P.A.T.H.S. Program. Taking inspiration from the touring Broadway production of Clue during its Center run March 19-24, these students explored the world of comedy and improvisation by engaging in eight weeks of interactive improv games/activities with local teaching artist, Dave Frederick. I had the opportunity to sit in on these workshops and talk to the students about their experiences in the program leading up to their improv showcase “Riddle Me This” that was held on March 21.

Remembering her own fun experiences of high school improv, the Fox Cities P.A.C.’s Education Programs Manager, Sammi Stelzl, was happy to share this imaginative form of comedy with the students. Overseeing the workshops and offering support when needed, Sammi enjoyed seeing the students tap into their creativity and self-confidence by exploring the “Who, What, Where and Why” of creating a scene through characterization, costuming, setting and more.

Sammi, Dave and the students’ teacher, Brian Borchardt, worked closely together to determine the specific activities for the students to enhance their quick-thinking skills throughout the eight-week project. From answering a question with a question to interpreting gibberish in an interview, posing for and describing a picture to responding to a customer’s complaint of an unusual object found in their soup, each activity challenged the students to think on their feet and lean into the unexpected, often resulting in something comical. These high schoolers accepted the well-known “Yes, And” attitude of improv, respecting and adding to each other’s creative choices.

I’m having fun while learning improv, teamwork and public speaking. You can really say some outlandish things with improv.
Moises C. - 2023-24 P.A.T.H.S. Program participant

Though initially uncertain, these students eagerly explored the freedom that comes with expressing yourself. Some of the students had prior theater experience while performing was new to others. However, since this was new territory for them, there was a sense of relief and support that allowed them to comfortably experiment in this learning environment. Avery F., a senior, came into the program with two other friends. Though she had some experience performing, this was out of her comfort zone. “I’m excited to be more creative and spontaneous,” she said. Her friend, Phillip H., also a senior, added, “I’m looking forward to learning more about improv in general, selling it as if it was always meant to be that way.”

Leading the workshops, Dave helped set the tone of the whole experience from the very first workshop until the showcase. He gave guidance on choosing topics, stage presence, projection and capitalizing on creative decisions. The informal structure allowed the high schoolers to feel more comfortable to ask questions, pose new ideas and take artistic risks; everyone engaged at their comfort level.

The week of the “Riddle Me This” Showcase, the students were excited and energetic. On Tuesday, March 19, the students enjoyed a catered dinner from Preferred Restaurant Partner, Van Abel’s in the Center’s Founders Room before seeing the opening night performance of Clue. They loved the show and were inspired by its quick humor and surprising twists. Two days later, it was the day of showcase. “Hiccups might happen, but I think that’ll make it better,” Moises commented. Aliza P. added, “It’s about feeling comfortable in being vulnerable.” Taking a philosophical approach, Ethan M. observed that “Life is just one big improv” – a statement that rings in truth.

The showcase on Thursday, March 21 was a huge success! The students gave a great performance, leaning into the unexpected. More than 50 people came to support the students, including their friends, family, teachers and Center staff. Even Mr. Boddy (Alex Syiek) from Clue stopped in to watch the showcase before giving a performance of the Broadway show! Some audience members joined in on the fun, participating in a few activities onstage. The students’ commitment to the performance and each other led to a lot of laughs from the audience. Many commented that they were impressed with how funny the students were. “It was an amazing experience,” Phillip H. remarked. “I was skeptical of doing improv at first, but I’m so glad I did it.”

As the weeks progressed, it was evident how much growth and confidence these students had developed. As they grew more comfortable working with each other, the students became more involved, coming up with sharp and witty responses while forming new friendships.

The P.A.T.H.S. Program has been a great way to meet new people in high school that we might not have met otherwise. I’ve made new friends here.
Ethan M. - 2023-24 P.A.T.H.S. Program participant

The Frank C Shattuck Performing Arts Touch the Hearts of Students (P.A.T.H.S.) Program is an educational initiative of the Fox Cities P.A.C. with support from BMO and Community First Credit Union through the Community First Community Engagement Series.

Thank you to the show’s Community Partner, Menasha Corporation for helping bring this Broadway production to the Fox Cities.

Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center