Kate DeFeo already had an impressive resume when she decided to bring classes in improvisational comedy to her neighborhood by creating the group FoHi Improv in 2018.
And her mission statement also is the slogan near the top of the group’s webpage at fohiimprov.com: “Building Community, One Laugh at a Time.”
“What I’m teaching, long-form improv, is the art of storytelling,” DeFeo said. “It’s the art of listening to people talk, mining their lives for things that stand out as unique, which nobody sees in themselves. They’re all unique storytellers.”
Long-form involves multiple scenes tied in with each other, as opposed to short-form improv, which has been popularized by shows like ”Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
DeFeo said students need not necessarily have been class clown material.
“I like to work with anyone who shows up,” she said. “My beginner classes are literally for anybody, so you don’t have to have a desire or even an interest in comedy. The comedy comes from not trying to be funny. That’s the sort of art they are doing.
“I always hear the thought, ‘Oh, I have to be funny to do improv.’ And that is not true. I want anyone who wants to be in a class about conversation, or maybe just wants to meet someone in the neighborhood or just reach out and talk to someone. Because my classes foster the warmest environment of community.” The company has nearly a dozen teachers who are actors, writers, musicians and even a scientist.
DeFeo had performed, written and taught theater, improv and puppetry projects for about 20 years. She also is on the creative staff of the Garden Players and other groups in Forest Hills.
“I had tons of classes, tons of performances in Manhattan — and Manhattan theaters are exceptional, don’t get me wrong. My experience was that I was meeting people from all over the five boroughs, which was exciting in its own right, but when it came to social activity, once I had a full-time job, had a family, had other obligations it became quite hard for me to fulfill the social part of the improv requirement.”
She wanted to bring that sense of creation and community to Forest Hills.
“That’s how this started ... It doesn’t have to be actors and performers. That was my other big goal, which is exactly what I got.”
Martin Howell, a retired journalist living in Forest Hills, spent much of his 40-year career as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief in Asia. He decided he wanted to give improv a try.
“I think I went to two or maybe three live classes, and then of course, the pandemic hit,” Howell said. DeFeo, who has brought her shows to places like NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst, did some improvisation of her own.
“The great thing was we went online. We went on Zoom,” he said. “That was a real godsend for a lot of us because you know what it was like. We were all completely locked down and isolated from everyone. The Zoom classes were a lot of fun, a weekly highlight for those weeks when we were completely locked down.” As a journalist, he was always quick on his feet, though in news that could mean 30 seconds, as opposed to one second or even less required for improv. “It is hard work ... But it lets me get out of your more staid behavior and become the class clown for an hour. That’s fine with me.”
Some classes have limited capacity. Schedules and fees are available by email at FoHiImprov@gmail.com.