Improv with Hypernovas Productions | ft. Jules Dameron


Hello, I’m Rogan and welcome! Today is a little bit of a swerve from the posts I’ve been making recently, but I hope you’ll enjoy it regardless! Back in the fall, I took an improv class taught by Jules Dameron and Josh Castille. It was done through their company, Hypernovas Productions, working with Deaf Spotlight. There were six of us performing for the showcase in October. I immensely enjoyed this class! To start off, I have a little surprise for y’all. I did a quick interview with Jules about this, then I have a couple of testimonials if you will. I’ll talk a little more about my own experience after that.

Rogan: Welcome Jules!

Jules: I feel very welcome in my own home.

R: I will ask Jules questions about her improv background, and some other things. To start with the first question, what’s your experience in improv, training, and so on?

J: My first real experience with improv was really before I learned improv, if that makes sense. I’m a director first, so I really work with actors to encourage them to be fresh all the time. So I remember every time I work with an actor, I always feel like I want them to be more real, more true essence. So I feel like that the essence of my directing was pushing my performers to be more improvised. Funny, I never took a class, yet, for improv. I think it was just a few little things here and there that just naturally feed into life. But actually getting involved… I was in The Deaf Gang, created by Josh Castille. I got into that with him. He took some classes. Then we were like, maybe you can share with us what you’ve learned? He agreed with that, so he shared, he kind of taught us—deaf talent, deaf actors in L.A. In sign language form, what he learned from those classes, just so we can move forward.

R: That, improv tends to be hearing-based. Talking, voices, dependent on listening aurally and having that back and forth. Deaf people are different, we must have eye contact. Many classes provided are verbally spoken, it’s tough for deaf people to participate in that banter. So that part of this improv class, I really enjoyed. We all have the same language, the same access to information, unified in that.

J: Right, exactly. I feel like that’s where we need access to that kind of class with signing. So for me, what was really important was that I took improv first through sign. I wanted to take a hearing class, UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade). So I went, took their class, finished it. Then after that, I understood it better. It was very challenging for me! Because the only thing I could do was speak verbally, but I hear zero, really nothing. So I needed an interpreter. All my goal was really to learn how they run things, why they do it, so that way, I could think about how to apply that to myself. Many deaf people experience this, where they have to take hearing training then they have to “interpret” it for themselves, if they can figure it out. I didn’t take a lot of improv training. Josh has more improv training, he’s already had a lot more. So I learned from him, then we agreed we would co-teach on improv. Really, I keep learning from those classes. It’s really exciting. I’m now realizing how important improv is for all. Especially with deaf people, because we don’t have scripts in ASL. We need to learn how to get our own essence out in sign. That’s where we need to retain our expression.

R: How many classes have you taught so far, and how did you feel about the classes you’ve taught?

J: So far, three that I’ve officially taught with improv. With Josh, under Hypernovas/The Deaf Gang. Seattle with Deaf Spotlight, San Francisco with ASL Love, and Canada with Inside Out Theatre and Deaf Spectrum. Those three were all different experiences! The first one was interesting, because we had more language diversity in there. A wide range of people, the way they think and process improv. We, me and Josh, co-taught, and we learned very fast. We need to make sure that people connect well, as a team, no matter what. So… Language levels are really important. From the first class, we learned fast that improv *helps* grow our listening skills. Grow our— If we had language deprivation, we improve from there with improv training! I swear, there’s going to be a book written on this. So there’s that. The second class, ASL Love, the San Francisco group was a fascinating group! It was different. All of them had more equal language foundations, a strong group. And they’re all brilliant, they all learned fast. They all had a lot of insights on different things. And I love that group, it’s really fun. And I learned a lot from them too! They’re artists too. The third one in Canada, again, a different kind of group. They have their own thoughts, and of course, Canadian culture comes into that. I realize now why improv is so important, it’s because of the diversity. Because if you think about it, a lot of material out there is written based on the majority, usually. But with improv, it doesn’t matter. You can be yourself. Whatever background you have, that’s it. That’s the world you bring.

R: You don’t have to accommodate others. Be yourself, who you are, your genuine core. Not constantly adapting to others, what their expectations are, what they have written down.

J: Right! Exactly! We create our own things from *us.* And that’s the beauty of improv. I realized that’s why I’m in love with it, because of that. Because I’m able to see more different kinds of people.

R: Why do you think it’s important for deaf talent, or deaf people in general, to take and do improv?

J: You know how the “hot” thing lately has been celery juice? You know, the healthy drink, because it has a lot of health benefits. For your body, for your energy, blah blah. It’s the same with improv. It has *a lot* of benefits creatively, expression, and so on. So many reasons. First, it helps you connect with people better. You actually learn to listen to people better. No offense intended, but deaf people do have a listening problem sometimes, I feel like. I think there’s something about our way of connecting to people. I think maybe it’s because many of us are from hearing families, who don’t listen to us. So we don’t have practice of getting listened to, or we don’t have practice of listening to them either, because what is there to listen to? It’s hard to receive information.

R: Deaf people tend to have, already… If you’re having a conversation, they already have their brain thinking about what they’ll say next. They’re not really paying attention to what the person’s saying *now.* They’re already thinking about the next thing, jumping ahead. No, back up, hold. Wait for what they say, then oh! That may change what they were going to say.

J: I’m saying this strongly because *I* have a listening problem too, and I’m learning to listen better. Improv helps me with that big time. It’s an art of sacrificing your thoughts, you know. It helps you use your “common sense” of storytelling. When you read a script, then you improvise around it. Another benefit is if you read a script with a deaf character written by someone who doesn’t know or understand deaf characters. You can actually use the rules of improv to make your character a little bit more real, a little bit more… Authentic. So you throw something in for the director, they’ll see that it’s more real than this. They realize that. I know many of us do feel a little stuck, having to follow the script and accept it. No! I think it’s good to respect the director, but you also have to respect your work.

R: What your inner feeling of that character is. Because you read the script and embody that role. You learn how—who that person is, what embodies them. If I have that feeling, maybe the director doesn’t have that feeling, because they’re not embodying that role. While I am taking on that role. Improv helps you figure that out, maybe that would happen, maybe this would happen, maybe not.

J: That’s why I’m so… I’m excited about improv. I’m really encouraging everyone to really look into it. Even if you’re not an actor, I still think it’s a beautiful thing to learn. And I think! I think interpreters, all interpreters. (R: Yes yes yes.) Deaf, hearing, whatever. All of the interpreters should take improv for practice. Because you’re on the spot, all the time! You have to learn to accept whatever happens.

R: Right. I’m glad you mentioned that, because I did take this improv class because I wanted to help improve some of my interpreting skills. Because I know sometimes I’m given something, and that’s not the usual, everyday sentence. I’m thinking of how I interpret into full ASL. Or, I heavily work with DeafBlind people, meaning I have to interpret to PT (ProTactile), touch-based. That demands more rapid creativity. Because sometimes the thing they give me is strongly visual, no—it’s all airspace, no actual physical touch. So I’m thinking of how I change that into touch. That’s really challenging, and improv did help some with that. So, what’s next?

J: Well. Today, I just finished teaching a improv class with Josh for my company, Hypernovas Productions. And this was for Canada, their Inside Out Theater plus Deaf Spectrum. It’s great, you should watch their video online. They will show it on their Facebook page, take a look. And for more improv, Josh and I are definitely committed to teaching more classes. We can teach online, through Zoom meetings, so. At first, we weren’t sure, will it be possible to do that? But it’s working beautifully so far. So I suggest you keep an eye out. Remember, it’s not just our company, Hypernovas. I encourage improv in general, for everyone. Everyone will benefit, if you take a class from a hearing or deaf person, whatever. I personally see a lot of benefits if it’s in the same language, sign language, for sure.

R: I think that’s all I have for now, anything you want to add at the last minute?

J: You have to include this in the edit, please. I know it’s difficult for you to do this, but I want to say: Rogan! Rogan is an amazing improviser. You’re really good at what you do, and I really hope to see more of you doing that kind of thing. I’m rooting for Rogan!

R: Thank you, I really appreciate that. Yeah, I do want to do more improv. We’ll see what happens in the future.

J: You’re fun, you’re fun.

R: Thank you Jules, for joining me today!

Up next, I asked two of my classmates to send in brief thoughts about their experience taking this class.

Marilyn: I took their improv class last fall, here in Seattle. Wow. It was wonderful. Very organized, clear agenda, everything was seamless. When I first walked in, I had doubts. Am I good enough? Am I flexible enough? At my age, I’m pretty settled. Let’s see anyway. And yes. Both of them were so good that I felt free, uninhibited. Stretching my mind, being more spontaneous. Digging deep! It was fun. A week passed by and finished, I was touched. I fully support their work. Wow. Thank you to them both for doing this. [ILY]

Sam: Being up on stage in front of an audience makes me very nervous. So I took this improv class to challenge myself. With Josh and Jules teaching, I got immersed in it. As we finished and got to the last day, I got up on stage and… I bombed hard. But that was progress. Later on, at work and such, I realized that the things they’d taught me, the concepts, applied to several things. So, improv isn’t performing only. It applies to real life, how you relate to others, communicate with people. I applaud and tip my hat to Josh and Jules for providing improv in Seattle. Really, I am grateful. Another one? I’m waiting!

As for me, I took it for several reasons. Jules and Josh are good friends of mine, and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity for a fun class with them. I also was wanting to do some more performing, and improv was something I hadn’t done for a long time. This was my first formal training in improv, so I learned a lot! Improv can benefit people in so many ways, not just for getting up on the stage and being funny. I took this class to do more performing, yes, but it was also to bolster my skills for other areas. I want to eventually do more theater, and I’d be able to be quick on my feet if something went wrong on the stage. In my work as an interpreter, like I mentioned earlier, it boosts my skills for creating interpretations/translations on the fly. In personal life, you can get better with comebacks or keeping the conversation lively! The benefits are countless. If you would like to watch some deaf improv, you can follow Hypernovas for any updates on their classes and workshops they teach. You can also check out The Deaf Gang, and FYI!! There will be a live online show tomorrow, May 30th, at 5pm PDT/8pm EDT. Deaf Night Live Improv, hosted by Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre. I will leave links for everything below the post! And now I’m going to shut up. I hope you learned something from this! Let me know if you’ve ever done any improv yourself, or if you’d be interested in it. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have about improv or about the class specifically in the comments! Again, thank you to Jules for taking the time to do an interview with me, and my two classmates for taking the time to film and send me their thoughts.

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Links links links
Jules Dameron:
Josh Castille:
The Deaf Gang:
Deaf Spotlight:
ASL Love:
Deaf Spectrum:

Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

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