Improvisation in Iraq: December 28th at BATS Improv

Peter-William
Yousra, a Baghdad-born Iraqi Improviser and her college theater professor Peter Friedrich will be at BATS Improv for one special night of interviews and performance.

At 7 p.m., BATS Company member Kasey Klemm will interview Yousra, about her experiences with improvisation in post-Sadam Iraq.

After a brief intermission, Yousra will take the stage with Five BATS improvisers for a night of free form improvisation, led by Kasey and Peter.

  • William: how did you get hired to teach improv in Iraq?

Sheer bullheadedness. I started out an English teacher here and bugged my bosses about it until they let me try. This year it’s part of the curriculum. My study at BATS played a big role.

  • Is it dangerous?

If it’s my mom asking, not at all. If it’s Shakira asking, I cheat death for a living. Honestly, I’ve given up trying to figure it out.  Worrying will not change it at all. I think if you did my job for a day, you would probably not be worried either. You’d be very distracted by the students in front of you.

  • How many students do you teach?

It’s anywhere from 8 to 25. Sometimes I will spend half a day with another teacher’s class, to test learning styles and build a group. We’ve got a good thing going with that -- teaching students that a class isn’t just students sharing the same space - -it really is an ensemble. Take risks together; get in trouble, save each other. Fail. Repeat

  • Where do the students come from (within Iraq)?

All over the country, including Kirkuk, Mosul, Baghdad, Erbil, and our hip college town of Sulaimani.

  • Why is it important that you bring one of the students to the US (BATS Improv)?

There are so many hardworking students in Iraq, with so much passion and determination. But without a bridge to the outside world, they can feel like they’re on the surface of the moon. Think about growing up in a country where the only visitors you’ve seen are soldiers. What we’re doing at BATS will send a message to all students in Iraq that whatever you are passionate about, there are whole communities of like-minded people waiting to connect with you. You’re not alone.

  • Tell us a little about Yousra?

She’s from Baghdad, from a wonderful family. She used to be extremely shy, and wound up basically taking over the school. You will not find a more excited person in the world to come to San Francisco and walk on the BATS stage.  Our emails to each other have consisted of WWWOOOOO and Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh for the last month.

  • How does the Bagdad/Iraq community react to improv?

I have actually not heard one bad reaction. Perhaps that’s a sign I need to push things a bit more.

  • Why is this work important to you?

A shy student fails at some random exercise, like becoming an elephant in Bippety-Bop, realizes nothing bad happened, and then smiles and fails again next time, with feeling. How can you not want to see that again and again? It’s just the coolest thing there is. Sometimes the effects are so sudden and reverse-catastrophic. One student walked out of a single improv class a year ago with a new personality and is still riding it out. I could watch stuff like that happen for the rest of my life.

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