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Students learn to act off the cuff in classes and live performances

Gary Best has a simple job: to make sure his students are not prepared.
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Gary Best has a simple job: to make sure his students are not prepared. "If you're prepared, you're not in the moment and open to creation," Best said. If you don't believe him, there's even a sign on the wall that reads: "Our Motto Don't Be Prepared - Keith Johnstone."

Best is associate artistic director of the Ventura Improv Company, formerly known as the Ventura Area TheatreSports/Livery Theatre.

"We even thought about changing the name to Creativity Workshop," Best said.

The 53-year-old actor, in his 18th year with the company, is one of its founding members. Every Monday he teaches one of the group's two weekly improv workshops for adults, in which people can learn general improvisational theory and technique and just have a good time.

Classes start with warm-up exercises in which students loosen up and build trust in their classmates. After that they take the stage, where they are given a setup: characters and their relationships, the setting, and creating scenes without a script. Best gives directions and feedback from the sidelines as fellow classmates watch from the audience. The idea is for participants to spontaneously build a story together while trusting their instincts and being creative. "If you really are in tune with your partner there's no need to be clever," Best said.

For $10 a class, students are the creative talent on stage. Each two-hour class is held at the Livery Theatre in Ventura, and anyone from any skill level is accepted.

The first class is free, and those who sign up for five classes get the sixth free.

"I love teaching improv," Best said. He says that while he does teach elements of acting and creating, improv is pretty much like a team sport in which people come out and just play.

"If you're a control freak or a judgmental person this could be a good place to work that out," he said.

"You find a very supportive environment," said John Medeiros, 40, a member of the company. He says that improv is play for the spirit. Being silly and cutting loose provide a natural high, he says. "Silly can be fun as hell."

For Medeiros, Best and the other members of the all-volunteer company, improv is very much about the experience.

"It really is fun and rewarding," Best said. "You get to witness rare moments of creation, and it's addicting."

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