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Improv-ing in the New Year

Ira Pettle launches three new performance-based classes to kick off 2019

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Ira Pettle started 2019 a little differently than usual.

"This is a first for me: I started thinking about this year two months ago, which is a big step for me," he says.

The next 12 months are "all about organization and pre-planning," he adds.

That's, in part, due to the astounding number of pursuits he's juggling. He leads infant/toddler music classes, DJs weddings, teaches corporate groups improv through Tara O'Doherty's new Laugh Authority venture, hosts countless kids parties via the municipality and is working on a to-be-revealed new community theatre project—to name just a few. (Oh yeah, there was also his 2018 campaign for a council seat, too.)

He bought the domain name irapettle.com 15 years ago as a place to list all these activities, but partly because of their diversity, he hasn't been sure how to properly design it.

"I want to take the next step into my life's purpose," he says. "The conversation I'm entertaining now is how can I maximize my service—that's really what it's all about—to all those different circles I roll in—and even what has yet to be created here."

Combining his background in education (he has a Masters of Education) and entertainment, Pettle is continuing that mission with three new programs, all launching this month.

First, there's After School Kids Improv class, running every Wednesday for nine weeks, starting on Jan. 16. Then there's the adult version called Beyond the Bubble Whistler Improv, which is also nine sessions every Wednesday starting Jan. 16. (Kids from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and adults from 6:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., both at the Maury Young Arts Centre.)

Both will aim to boost confidence, create community, help participants learn to be more present (perhaps that's more applicable to adults) and—of course—improvise.

"It's going to have a more relaxed format in that we'll gather, do some warm-up games to get everybody listening to each other and create a team mentality," Pettle says of the kids' class. "Then we play improv games and learn through laughter; that's the big tagline. They're not even going to know necessarily that they are learning how to be teammates and enhancing their listening skills and gaining confidence, confronting their fears. That also spans age limitations."

Kids tend to be less inhibited when it comes to improv and, as a result, for adults, showing up to class is half the battle, Pettle says. "What I do really well is create a safe space," he says. "The only pressure is the pressure you create for yourself. That's not an improv thing, that's a life thing. So we go slow and we build slow, but we get there."

Finally, the biggest project Pettle has planned for the year is Whistler Kids Cabaret, a five-month performing-arts, educational-development program and production, running every Tuesday starting on Jan. 15.

The idea for the extensive program came from his experience hosting the Children's Flag Stop Theatre Mentorship Program, which culminated in sold-out productions of Pan at the Flag Stop Theatre Festival last summer.

"This grand slam of a show, we spent 20 hours on together, which is nothing," he says. "This came out of a debrief of what needed to be different with Pan moving forward."

To that end, the program is broken into four stages: improv and ensemble training; script analysis, movement, and vocals; audition, cast and rehearsal; and tech, dress, and performance.

The final result will be three shows in June featuring a variety show with a mix of dance, monologues, period pieces, comedy, along with other types of performance art.

"I'm confident the show is going to be the greatest show this town has seen from a kids' performing arts perspective," he says. "We want to start turning out higher-level content in kids' theatre."

"I feel like it's going to be epic. We're going for it. Five months together, what can we do?"

For more information on any of the programs or to register email ira@irapettle.com.

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