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Park Slope kids excel at improv

The Brooklyn Paper

Precocious Park Slope kids have a new way to get attention —and laughs — at the borough’s only children’s improv show.

TheatreSports puts the spotlight on kids as young as 4 years old for a monthly afternoon where children — rather than slightly more mature adult comics — show off their wit on the South Slope stage.

Organizers say the kids are a natural fit to the freestyle form.

“Talent exists in small kids; some kids are artists,” said Laura Livingston, the co-founder of Freestyle Repertory Theatre.

The show is designed as a competition, where two two-person teams face off in a game of improvisational feats. The kids on stage are aided by the theater company’s own performers, who lead the skits. And everyone must remember the number one rule of improv theatre: never say no.

The playful genre is in some ways better suited to kids than adults, theater pros say.

“Adults are more concerned than children about how they’re looking on stage,” said Livingston. “If I were to ask an audience of elementary school kids to name an animal, they might say mouse, dog, or even a bacteria; whereas an adult audience with almost always say aardvark or platypus. A kid will not worry about whether it’s ‘creative.’”

Freestyle Repertory Theatre — which was founded in 1983, and soon developed a mission to bring theatrical experiences outside the theater — gave birth to TheatreSports after some struggles to hold attention spans in schools.

“We figured out that young people really enjoyed the show, but kids wouldn’t pay attention unless they were involved,” Livingston said.

The troupe also brings variations of the show to schools in the neighborhood, such PS 321 and PS 124, perhaps in the hopes of finding the borough’s next Colin Quinn.

The show’s been going on for five years at the Gallery Players, where it is far from the only program geared towards kids at the acclaimed theater, which also hosts the “Peanut Gallery,” a musical theater camp for elementary school kids every summer.

The theater’s producers argue that it’s a way to attract a different demographic than the seasoned theatergoers it normally appeals to.

“People will say, ‘My friend told me about this but I didn’t know there was a theater here,’” said Dominic Cuskern, the director family programing at the theater, which charges $10 for kids — though adults are free — at the show. “It does have a way of paying off for us.”

Livingston promises she isn’t training a new generation of disgruntled and jobless creative types that already populate the borough’s cafes.

This is a way of working on how you communicate verbally and through your body language,” she said. “It increases your appreciation for the written word and encourages creative risk taking.”

TheatreSports at the Gallery Players [199 14th St. between Fourth and Fifth avenue in Park Slope], (718) 595-0547] Feb. 17, noon. $10 for kids, adults free.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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