Schoolyard Jesters Offer Lunchtime Laughs

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The class clowns of Payson High School have found their niche.

A group of student comedians, under the tutelage of the high school drama department, has formed an improvisational group.

They call themselves the Schoolyard Jesters, and they perform their madcap routines, some with input from their audience, just about every Wednesday at lunch time. As an extracurricular activity, the students who participate are putting in their own practice time after school.

One routine they do is styled on the vintage television series "Mission Impossible." Each week the mission changes.

Jessica Kasl, announcing the mission sang, "Oops. I did it again. I played ..." then told Agents Calvin Legassie and Danny Neff, "This is your mission if you choose to accept it. Your task is: Going to School."

The physical comedy of Legassie and Neff brought immediate chuckles from the audience.

Their pretend net wasn't big enough to catch their bus, so the pair mimed summoning the bus with a wand, then leaped onto the fictitious vehicle.

When the bus didn't let them off, they went through a whole new set of drops and rolls getting off the vehicle. They escaped the "bad agents" by hiding in the bushes as they made their mad dash to school.

The aptly named Schoolyard Jesters were founded by Mick Stern and Hillary Scott. A dozen other high school students have joined them.

Students bring their lunches and hang out on the natural area in front of the auditorium to watch and laugh. By word of mouth, the audience is growing.

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Agents Calvin Legassie and Danny Neff are on a mission to go to school.

"Its entertaining and hilarious," Heidi Haworth said. "Just because I know these people and how tough it is sometimes to do improv like this, they do really well."

According to Stern, the Jesters practice after school about three hours a week. New members must show up for two weeks and practice their hearts out to show how much they want to be part of the troupe. Geoff Kaufman, one of the newer members, said he is a Jester because he loves acting.

"I just love these people; they're fun to hang out with," he said.

Audience participation is a key element. These teenagers are learning to think fast when they pull a situation out of their pocket.

The Jesters' delivery may not be impeccable yet, but they do deliver clean humor.

"If they're not appropriate, we're not using 'em," Scott said.

In "Scenes From a Hat," the audience wrote down examples of things for the Jesters not to say. Then each jester lined up to say something that would hopefully be amusing.

For instance, things not to say at a funeral would be: "Close it quick," "Let's just hurry up and get to the inheritance," and, "Wow, that coffin looks comfy."

Things not to say to your parents after a party and things not to say at an airport were two other scenes the students had to improvise.

Although the Jesters love to make their peers laugh, they would like to expand their audience in other venues and be able to raise money for drama-related activities.

"We are raising money to go to the International Thespian Festival in June," Kathy Siler, PHS drama teacher, said. "It is $800 per kid and it is a week of the best high school theater on earth. It's not just comedy. The week at Lincoln, Neb. is a week of theater -- stages, one acts, workshops by leading professionals and university teachers. (There's) a dance every night. Scholarship auditions for juniors and seniors.

"We have about 90 colleges that come and provide scholarships to these kids -- the Thespian scholarship, individual events performances. It's incredible."

Experiencing many types of acting styles is just one of the reasons Stern wants to attend the thespian festival. He plans to pursue acting as a career.

"Hillary Scott is also going to pursue acting," he said. "She was accepted by New York Film and Television (school)."

To book the Schoolyard Jesters, contact John or Kathy Siler at Payson High School (928) 474-2233.

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