Performance helped her socialize after being isolated in home school.
By Austin P. Taylor
Many students spend their summers working jobs to afford their education or simply relaxing after a hard semester.
Sonia Guerra, radio, television and broadcasting freshman spent this last summer taking improvisational theater classes at The Second City Training Center in Chicago.
The comedy theater operating the center opened in 1959 and launched the careers of people like writer Jordan Peele, actor Steve Carell, writer Tina Fey, actor Keegan-Michael Key and actress Jane Lynch.
In a Nov. 16 interview, Guerra said the classes she took at The Second City training school helped her develop her skills in the first two levels of improv theater.
An improv theater performance is usually an unscripted comedy sketch that is constantly changing because of material and ideas supplied by the performers and audience.
The first level of improv teaches performers to accept what their partner is adding to the performance and to add to it. Guerra said this stage is referred to as “yes and?”
“If they walk in with some crazy character or line, you accept that and add to that somehow,” she said.
The second level of improv comedy teaches performers to improve their entrances, scene work and timing.
“In improv, entrances are important. you need to make a decision,” Guerra said. “Even if you go in and you’re unsure of it, make it look like you’re sure of your decision.”
Guerra said if a performer shows uncertainty in a decision, it will affect the mood of the audience.
While at Second City, Guerra performed in a two month-long improv show.
“I did the audition just to get one under my belt. I was probably the youngest person auditioning, too,” she said. “My director, Andrew, picked me and five other people.”
Guerra said each team was given time to rehearse the games and formats they wanted to perform for their show. Each team performed four 20-minute shows.
Guerra said her group chose to perform four different improv games that revolved around her team taking suggestions from the audience.
“It was really interesting every night, getting to see the different suggestions and where that would take us,” she said. “We got some interesting stuff for sure, so we just kind of had to make it work,”
Audience suggestions could lead to scenarios like “Taylor Swift making origami” or “a game of bocce ball” (which no one knew how to play), Guerra said.
Something Guerra said she likes about her previous improv performances is the instant gratification of live theater.
“Just the fact I can say something and hear the joy and the laughter come from the audience pushes me to keep going and going,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure what I was going to learn, because I had done so much of it before but really seeing it in a more professional environment and actually getting to stand on a stage that so many of my comedy idols have stood on and performed … really pushed me to work toward my end goal.”
Guerra said she has been acting in theater since she was 11. She went into improv when she was in high school.
Throughout high school, Guerra performed at The Rose Theatre Company 11838 Wurzbach Road, with the Don View Crew Theater troupe.
In the fifth grade, Guerra was diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which caused her parents to start homeschooling her.
“My blood pressure and my heart rate are out of balance and so it causes a wide range of symptoms,” she said.
Guerra said common symptoms of the syndrome she suffers from are migraines, vertigo, nausea and weakness.
She said she started acting so she could continue to socialize.
“I was being homeschooled, so I wasn’t seeing my friends or people my age, so my parents put me in an acting class in the summer of my fifth grade year,” she said.
Guerra said she started performing in nighttime sketch comedy shows at The Rose Theatre company in the seventh grade.
“That’s really where I fell in love with it because it was the one thing that brightened what I was going through,” she said. “It was pretty tough not going to school and not seeing people.”
Guerra said her parents have been nothing if not supportive of her pursuing acting.
“I took last semester of school off so I could maintain my health and pursue my acting, and they’ve always told me that ‘if something comes up, to take it and run with it,’” she said. “Any parent that tells their kid to go for their dreams is a incredible one.”
Guerra said she wants to finish up her radio, television and broadcasting classes at this college. She said if she has to wait to do professional comedy performing, she would like to pursue sports broadcasting.
She said she would like to move back to Chicago within a year to fully commit herself to her improv and sketch comedy training.
Guerra is performing at the Bexar Stage, 1203 Camden St., while taking classes here. She will perform Dec. 7 and Dec. 21 at 10 p.m. Admission is $5.
Guerra said her goal is to perform on “Saturday Night Live.”