2009-09-03 / Local & State

Actor Puts Business Back Into Funny Business

By Melanie Vanderveer STROUDSBURG, Pa. (AP)

- So you think you're funny? Can you think with wit and humor at the drop of a hat?

Well if you think you can, or would like to learn, actor Chris Barnes wants to help with his new improvisational comedy school in Stroudsburg, a town in the Poconos about 70 miles north of Philadelphia and west of New York.

"Improv is all about listening, which has become a lost art,'' Barnes said. "The concept of improv is to lead into the direction of the scene. We have to create events, and reincorporate information that is laid out. It isn't about just saying whatever you are thinking.''

Barnes, known for roles on television shows such as "Life with Bonnie,'' "Seinfeld'' and "Curb Your Enthusiasm,'' has brought his acting knowledge and experience back to his home state to help future actors get the skills needed to audition and land roles.

Barnes opened his school, Comedy Dojo, in California in 1994. There have been many well-known actors that have traveled through the Comedy Dojo on their way to stardom.

"I've taught Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon and a lot of other well-known actors,'' Barnes said. "Their agents send them to me to prepare them for the life of an actor.''

Barnes is now bringing that same training to the Poconos. He said that there are a lot of talented kids in the area that could possibly have a future career in the industry, and he wants to help.

"Pike and Monroe counties are the two largest growing counties in the state. I went and saw all the high school plays in the area - 11 different schools. There are about 40 kids in each play, and they are all talented,'' he said. "Stroudsburg High School's show was phenomenal. It was unbelievable. The talent pool up here is so vast, and now these kids can get the same class that is taught in Los Angeles.''

Barnes is originally from the Scranton area, and feels a connection to the talent here. This is one reason why he opened his improv school in the space at Sundari Yoga & Wellness in Stroudsburg. He also likes the aura of a yoga studio.

"My school in L.A. is yoga, comedy and karate. It's a very zen atmosphere,'' Barnes said. "We treat improv as spiritual.''

Improv acting isn't your typical acting. It takes skill and lots of practice. Barnes makes sure that his students get the practice necessary to succeed.

"You have to learn listening in ironic mode. Expressed words are not what the meaning intended,'' Barnes said. "The laws of improv force you to listen, because you don't know where the scene is going next.''

During the school's four-week sessions, students use primary improv games to learn the fine art of improv acting. Barnes teaches what he calls the standard "bible of improv'' used at Second City in Chicago, a wellknown acting school.

"I also teach what I learned as an experienced actor in L.A. Good comedic acting techniques that you don't find at improv schools, but the necessary training to move onto films and television,'' Barnes said. "That's what I found myself while auditioning for 'Seinfeld,' 'Friends' and 'Grey's Anatomy.'''

Before Barnes began teaching at his new school, he created something for area teens to get their feet wet. Comedy High taught local teens the art of improv while filming a reality show.

"The goal of this project was to show students, family and the community the necessary skills one needs to develop to overcome the adversities life hands you through the principles of intensive comedy training,'' said Barnes. "The students from Comedy High will be performing at the school to show off what they learned.''

And these classes aren't only for the serious drama student, or just for teens.

"This is for the person who knows they have something to say, but finds themselves with no one listening. I have had seasoned actors in my classes, as well as lawyers, bus drivers, business owners and people who do public speaking,'' Barnes said. "This is for the person that just wants to do something one night a week out of their comfort level.

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