About Our School…

The Armpit Theater and School of Improvisation is for kids and teens. We offer short-form (playing games) and long-form (scenes) improvisation classes. We also offer public speaking classes. Our classes are online and in person in Fresno, CA.

Our purpose is to help kids find and solidify their unique and powerful voices.

Here, timid kids learn how to step up and speak up. Awkward teens find confidence in social situations. And aspiring young actors gain skills that work on any stage.

We teach process, not perfection. When kids learn how to sustain effort over time and learn how to the inevitable handle the ups and downs, they gain a powerful skill for their lives. In time, in the right conditions, everyone grows. Kids are no different. And they want to grow!

We take pains to cultivate a safe and non-judging environment. Our kids are encouraged to fail. They learn failure is part of growth. They learn their improv teammates will support them, just as they learn to support others. 

Our kids build skills that make them stronger and resilient in social situations. They learn to think creatively and thrive under pressure. 

Above all, we have fun!

We laugh a lot! In every class and show. This and the friendships formed are what keep everyone coming back.

Some School History…

Our school is new, founded in December of 2023. Ryan Harbert and his wife, Polina, recognized the potential of improv training to give kids a compelling alternative to social media and screen time. They recognized Improv as a way to fill the ever-widening social and behavioral gaps that social isolation creates. Improv teaches grounded presence, deep listening, how to support others, and how to respond authentically, all in a social context. This is exactly what’s missing in our day. We aim to create a safe space where our kids and relearn these skills.

We want our kids to have the skills for a socially engaged life, where they can build meaningful connections with peers and adults. A side benefit is that everyone has fun doing this.

About Ryan…

When I discovered improv, I knew I had found gold.

I knew this because I had extensive training from respected mentors in allied two modalities. In those modalities, I learned deeper (much deeper than we use in everyday life) forms of listening, authenticity, and non-judgemental support of others.

The first of those modalities is Speaking Circles, a public speaking paradigm I’ve been practicing with Lee Glickstein for the past four years. The second is called Focusing. Focusing excels at creating a space for exploring and finding one’s sense of Presence and Groundedness under emotional pressure. Ann Weiser Cornell certified me as a Focusing teacher and guide in 2020.

What Speaking Circles and Focusing share with Improv is that they teach one how to find a level of calm confidence that comes from within. This kind of confidence depends much less on other people or outside circumstances.

I’ve been studying long-form improv at the World’s Greatest Improv School. My teachers have included Will Hines, Julie Brister, Sarah Claspell, Todd Sullivan. I’ve performed with two online teams, Body Count and Doggy Daycare. I’ve also studied briefly with Emily Pesano at The Company Studio in Fresno, CA.

Most importantly, I’m a married father of three school-aged kids. My eldest daughter, Claire, loves acting. She’s a huge motivation behind the school’s existence.

Some Definitions…

Short-Form Improv:

Short-form improv involves brief, self-contained scenes or games with specific rules and formats. Each scene typically lasts only a few minutes.

Examples: Games in short-form improv might include “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”-style games where performers play games with specific objectives, such as responding to prompts, acting out scenes in a particular style, or engaging in quick, comedic interactions.

Structure: Scenes are usually unrelated, and the focus is on creating humor through quick thinking and clever responses.

Long-Form Improv:

Long-form improv involves creating extended scenes or a full-length show with interconnected elements. Performers use a single suggestion or theme as a springboard for an entire set.

Examples: The Harold is a classic long-form structure where scenes are developed and revisited, with connections and themes emerging throughout the performance. Other long-form structures include the Armando, the Montage, and the La Ronde.

Structure: Long-form scenes can be more narrative-driven, with characters and storylines developing over time. Connections between scenes often become apparent as the performance progresses.

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