Laugh & Learn: Los Alamitos High School's Improv Team is No Joke

The team recently hosted its first districtwide staff Improv Show to benefit the LAHS Drama Program

Laugh & Learn: Los Alamitos High School's Improv Team is No Joke
People buy tickets to attend the Los Alamitos High School student improv team's March 13 fundraiser. Photo by Jeannette Andruss.

A grown man successfully doing the splits was not what I expected to see at the Los Alamitos Unified School District's first-ever districtwide staff Improv Show. 

Oak Middle School teacher Robert Freedman-Finch’s impressive landing of the move was one of the many hilarious highlights from the March 13 event that raised $3,500 for the Los Alamitos High School Drama program and entertained an all-ages crowd in the packed Performing Arts Center.

Oak Middle School teacher Robert Freedman-Finch performs the splits during the first district-wide Improv Show hosted by Los Al Live on March 13. Video by Jeannette Andruss.

“This first district improv show was fantastic!,” Lori Franzen, an LAHS teacher who participated in the event, wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools. “We had no idea if anyone would come or how much money we would be able to raise for the drama program. The event surpassed our expectations,” she added.

Spontaneous fun tends to erupt on stage when Los Al Live, Los Alamitos High School’s student improv team, puts on a show.

For people unfamiliar with improv, it’s short for improvisational theater. Improv performers do comedy without a script and make everything up as they go, often in response to prompts from the audience. (See the TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? for examples.)

For people unfamiliar with Los Al Live, the improv team made up of LAHS students has been around for a while, according to math teacher David Barker, the team’s advisor for the last 15 years.

“We have kids who play tennis, we have kids in marching band, dance, just about every performing arts group there's some representation, but the majority of them are drama kids,” he said of his players in a recent Zoom interview.

Tryouts for Los Al Live happen at the start of the school year. The team is open to students of every grade level. It usually has about 20 members and practice happens once a week after school.

Los Al Live regularly puts on shows on campus where students play improv games for laughs. "Teachers on our campus regularly compete against our student improv team at Los Al Live events; I love being part of it. It makes me laugh; it's the best," wrote Franzen.

The humorous high schoolers also compete against other student improv programs. “Last year we won the California State Championship for improv at the California State Thespian Festival,” Barker shared, noting it's the third time Los Al Live has earned the title.

A post from Los Al Live's Instagram account shows advisor David Barker with some of his players after the team won the California State Championship for improv at the California State Thespian Festival in April 2023.

The March 13 event was the first improv show featuring staff from across the district.

Barker organized the fundraiser to help drama students cover the cost of attending the National Thespian Festival held annually in Indiana, something that, according to a Fox 11 report, they struggled to pay for last year.

Barker asked principals from each of the district’s nine campuses across Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, and Rossmoor to recruit staff to take the stage for a good cause.

Teachers and administrators from LAHS, Oak and McAuliffe middle schools, Los Alamitos, Rossmoor, and Hopkinson elementary schools stepped up. Superintendent Andrew Pulver, Ed.D., and Assistant Superintendent Ryan Weiss-Wright, Ed.D., were the judges. Team McAuliffe won the top prize. (Read reviews of the show from the student journalists at The Griffin Gazette here.)

“There is already talk of a show next year so I am going to try and make it happen and hope we can get representation from every school in our district,” Barker wrote in an email to Spotlight Schools. 

Participants in the first-ever districtwide staff Improv Show held on March 13. From left to right: BACK ROW: David Barker, LAHS Los Al Live advisor; Lori Franzen, LAHS teacher; Pauline Grimshaw, LAHS teacher; Nadia Williams, LAE Asst. Principal; Chris Miko, Oak Middle School Teacher; Robert Freedman-Finch, Oak Middle School teacher; Trent Vierra, Rossmoor Elementary teacher; Morgan Cochrane, Rossmoor Elementary teacher; Jason Farvour, Hopkinson Elementary Principal; Jessica Knight, Hopkinson Elementary teacher. FRONT ROW: Stacy Castiglione, LAHS Drama Program Director; Jacqueline Wels, LAHS Teacher; Jamie Miranda, Oak Middle School teacher; Renee Schwarz, McAuliffe Middle School drama teacher; Jen McGuire, McAuliffe Middle School teacher; Nicole Manly, McAuliffe Middle School teacher; and Bret Lynes, McAuliffe Middle School teacher. Photo courtesy of Los Alamitos USD.

One of Barker’s rules is that the shows must be family-friendly. It was inspired by a quote he heard from an improv instructor.

“She said, ‘It's really easy to get laughs by being crude, but you're really talented if you can get laughs by being clean.’ So that's kind of been my motto ever since,” said Barker.

Improv has Benefits Beyond Humor

Another belief of Barker's is that improv can do a lot more than just spark laughter.

“I've had several parents who have come and told me that improv has been what got their kid through school," Barker said, stating that some of the students were really shy, or were depressed or dealing with other challenges.

“It's something that really helped them just connect and do things," he said. "So there are a lot of really positive things about [improv] that come besides just the fun it is to do.”

Evan Pagan, a 10th grader and member of Los Al Live, agreed.

In a recent group Zoom interview with Barker and Evan's fellow teammates, he shared that improv has helped him with anxiety. “Improvisation requires you to not be anxious. As soon as you're calm, things go well,” he said. 

There is some research to back this up. A study from 2019 found some adolescents that participated in a ten-week improv class at their school saw a reduction in symptoms of social anxiety.  

Evan also said doing improv has helped him with conversations at the family dinner table. “Improv’s fun because it’s taught me how to talk to people,” he said. “It's great. You basically get a badge that says, hey, guess what? I’m funny,” he joked. 

Audrey Romo, a 10th grader in her first year on the improv team, said being part of Los Al Live has boosted her public speaking skills. “It just pushed me to be able to talk to bigger audiences and be a lot more confident in my ability to articulate my thoughts,” Audrey said in a Zoom interview.

She likes to participate in an improv game where the audience shouts out words and players must use them in a rhyming rap on the spot. “You can always count on the crowd to be enthusiastic and the players to be engaged,” said Audrey.

Tom Curd is an 11th grader and one of the captains of Los Al Live. Now in his third year on the team, Tom said he enjoys the community it provides. “I feel like I've made more friends by being on improv," he said over Zoom.

It’s also helped him engage with customers at his job at a pizza restaurant. “If you're funny with them, or like, you're more of an interesting person, they're more likely to tip you and that's always good,” Tom said with a grin. 

Without missing a beat, Barker exclaimed, “Wait, I’m making you money?" sparking laughter from his players, and exhibiting a lesson in comedic timing.

You can witness the fun of Los Al Live's unscripted comedy next month when the team hosts its next improv shows on April 12 at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. at the Black Box Theater at Los Alamitos High School.

For more information, check out Los Al Live on Facebook and Instagram.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct once instance of a misspelling of Robert Freedman-Finch's name.

Sign up for Spotlight Schools, our free email newsletter

Get the latest headlines right in your inbox